A Primer On What "Free" Birth Control Really Means For You

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Yesterday, August 1, a piece of Obamacare (which recently saw a victory in the Supreme Court) that will very directly affect you — the one that requires insurance companies to cover contraceptives "at no cost" — went into effect. "Free birth control for all!" is what all of the sensationalist headlines read — but the meaning of the law is of course much more nuanced than that. Here's why you should care, and what you need to know.

So, birth control is now free, right?
Well, no. Insurance companies are now mandated to cover birth control at no cost to the subscriber and no co-pay. So, while you aren't paying out of pocket for pills, your insurance provider still is, and that could eventually raise your premium. That said, the hope is that insurance companies will see their own pregnancy spending go down, as more people are given regular access to birth control, creating a win-win situation for all.

So, I can walk into a drugstore right now and fill my prescription for free?
Actually, no. The new regulation says that the amendment must go into effect at the start of your insurance year. It is up to your company or provider to determine that date. Of course, to further complicate things, some plans have grandfathered in safety-nets from new legislation. In this case, the no-cost contraceptive won't kick in until 2014. The only way to tell if your plan is one of these is to ask your provider.

I don't have insurance. Does this affect me?
Unfortunately, no. Same goes for Medicaid, too.

I prefer a longer-term, more expensive version of birth control, like an IUD or a ring. This only applies to pills, right?
Here's some good news: This change actually applies across the board, meaning the new law will cover your BC, no matter your preferred form (within reason). Since Planned Parenthood cites the IUD as one of the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy, it will be covered.

I work for a church/religiously owned organization. Is birth control now free for me under their plan?
While this is still being hammered out, a federal judge ruled that religious organizations are exempt from the new law. So, probably not.

So, why should I care?
Because, while newspapers and pundits tend to focus on the free birth control aspect of this law, it is only one of seven things that women no longer have to pay out-of-pocket. Any sort of feminine preventative care, like mammograms, testing, well-women visits, pap-smears, and post-abuse counseling are also included. Not only does this give you unprecedented control over your own well-being, but now, you officially have zero excuse to ever miss out on an annual exam.

Photo: iStock.