The Obama administration is examining whether the new health care law can be used to require insurance plans to offer contraceptives and other family planning services to women free of charge.
Such a requirement could remove cost as a barrier to birth control, a longtime goal of advocates for women’s rights and experts on women’s health. But it is likely to reignite debate over the federal role in health care, especially reproductive health, at a time when Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal the law or dismantle it piece by piece. It is also raising objections from the Roman Catholic Church and is expected to generate a robust debate about privacy.
The law says insurers must cover “preventive health services” and cannot charge for them. The administration has asked a panel of outside experts to help identify the specific preventive services that must be covered for women.
Administration officials said they expected the list to include contraception and family planning because a large body of scientific evidence showed the effectiveness of those services. But the officials said they preferred to have the panel of independent experts make the initial recommendations so the public would see them as based on science, not politics.
Many obstetricians, gynecologists, pediatricians and public health experts have called for coverage of family planning services, including contraceptives, without co-payments, deductibles or other cost-sharing requirements.