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More covered by private insurance get free birth control under law

| Friday, July 4, 2014, 7:24 p.m.

WASHINGTON — More than half of privately insured women are getting free birth control under President Obama's health law, a major coverage shift that's likely to advance.

This week, the Supreme Court allowed some employers with religious scruples to opt out, but most companies appear to be going in the opposite direction.

Recent data from the IMS Institute document a sharp change during 2013. The share of privately insured women who got their birth control pills without a copayment jumped to 56 percent, from 14 percent in 2012. The law's requirement that most health plans cover birth control as prevention, at no additional cost to women, took full effect in 2013.

The average annual saving for women was $269. “It's a big number,” said institute director Michael Kleinrock. The institute is the research arm of IMS Health, a Connecticut-based technology company that uses pharmacy records to track prescription drug sales.

The core of Obama's law — taxpayer-subsidized coverage for the uninsured — benefits a relatively small share of Americans. But free preventive care — from flu shots to colonoscopies — is a dividend of sorts for the majority with employer coverage.

Business groups and employee benefits consultants say they see little chance that employers will roll back contraceptive coverage as a result of the Supreme Court ruling. The court carved out a space for “closely held” companies whose owners object on religious grounds. Most companies don't fit that niche.

“I don't think you will see a broad impact,” said Neil Trautwein, the top employee benefits expert for the National Retail Federation. “It's a commonly offered benefit for many employers, including retailers.”

The court decision involved “a very unique set of facts,” Trautwein added.

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