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SALT LAKE CITY — Major changes for President Obama's health care law regarding coverage for women went into effect Wednesday. Most women now qualify for no-cost wellness checks and preventive screenings.
Also starting today, nearly every employer in the country is required to provide free contraception to female employees. It's the most controversial of eight new rules going into effect.
- Annual well-woman exams
- FDA-approved contraception
- Screening for gestational diabetes for women at least 24 weeks pregnant
- Testing for the human papilloma virus (HPV) for women age 30 and older
- Screening and counseling for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV
- Breastfeeding supplies and counseling
- Screening and counseling for domestic violence
Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, said, "Women will no longer have to reach into their pockets to pay for wellness checkups."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius estimates 47 million women will be impacted by this.
"Thanks to the new health care law, all insurance policies will be required to cover new vital care that women need to stay healthy and they'll have to cover the care without charging women anything out of pocket," she said.
The benefits include contraceptives, breast-feeding supplies, screenings for sexually transmitted infections and counseling for domestic violence. They also include routine check-ups for breast and pelvic exams, pap tests and prenatal care.
"Too often, we put our own health last, and that's especially true when it come to preventive care. The regular checkups and screenings that are so important to staying healthy but can be too easy to put off," Sebelius said.
Fourteen free preventative service benefits for women have already taken effect under the Affordable Care Act, including mammograms to screen for breast cancer in women over 40.
Of the new rules that kick in today, religious and conservative groups are most upset about the contraceptive requirement for employers.
Jennifer Marshall of the Heritage Foundation said this could put some employers in a difficult position. "It forces an impossible choice on them - either they've got to violate their conscience or they'll be faced with extraordinary fines," she said.
The rule is already being challenged in the courts. Last week a Colorado company won a reprieve from a federal judge, which opens the door for more challenges.
While democrats are celebrating the new requirements of the law, Senate Republicans tried again to repeal the law.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo, said, "We need to repeal and replace this health care law."
But Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said, "What is with this idea of repeal? Do you really want to take away these benefits from women?"
Another democrat, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, said, "If you want to repeal that, then bring it on!"
Not all insured women will have access to the new services. Certain insurance plans that existed before the passage of health care reform may have "grandfathered" status and be exempt from offering the benefits. Women can check with their employers to find out.
Contributing: Nkoyo Iyamba