Under Obamacare, Free Birth Control Starting August 1st

A measure under the Patient Protection and Affordability Act will go into effect in two weeks, offering lots of women the opportunity to save a whole lot of cash on contraceptives.

Say what you will about the Patient Protection and Affordability Act—a.k.a Obamacare—but one thing’s for certain: It’s about to save a lot of women a heck of a lot of money. On August 1st, the bill’s (controversial) contraceptive-coverage measure goes into effect, under which insurance companies must provide members with options for free—that’s right, zero cost—contraceptives. This includes oral birth-control pills, emergency contraceptives (i.e. the morning-after pill), and diaphragms, as well as services like sterilization, patient counseling and education about contraception options.

To be honest, I’d pretty much forgotten about this little line item in the bill—that is, until a letter from my insurance company arrived in the mail last week, listing out which medications it would cover under the new law. I was pretty giddy; anyone who’s ever taken birth control knows it’s easy to rack up quite the pharmacy tab. So free birth control? That’s, well, pretty awesome.

A couple of things you should know: Not all pills and methods are going to be free. Your insurance company has the discretion to decide which prescriptions are covered, and which are not. My insurer provided for 21 oral contraceptives, three emergency contraceptives, and three diaphragms. Products like condoms are not covered under the law.

Another potential hitch: Depending on the kind of insurance you have, your contraception coverage may not go into effect until January 1st. It has to do with whether your plan is part of a “fully funded commercial group” or a “self-insured group.” Plans under the former are subject to the August 1st deadline, regardless of renewal date. Contraceptive coverage for most self-insureds will go into effect in January, when the plans renew. I was unsure which category my plan falls under, so I called my insurer. Turns out, I’m in the August 1st camp.

The last exception is employees who work for religious organizations, whose companies may have opted out of this kind of coverage in the past due to religious beliefs. The law provides that these employers have at least until August 1, 2013, before the change goes into effect. The extra time gives President Obama and his team the opportunity to work with religious groups to come to an agreement and find a solution, since many opposed to the measure are still pursuing means to overturn the law.

Only time will tell what will happen on that front. But for now, I’m happy to ride the wave of free prescriptions as far as it’ll take me.