Insurance companies must completely cover the costs of a variety of birth control methods available to consumers, the Obama administration says.
The word came down in new policy guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services about required implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
"Today's guidance seeks to eliminate any ambiguity," a statement from HHS said. "Insurers must cover without cost-sharing at least one form of contraception in each of the methods (currently 18) that the FDA has identified for women in its current Birth Control Guide, including the ring, the patch and intrauterine devices."
Insurers must cover at least one available option in all FDA-approved contraception methods without copay or deductible on the part of patients, it said. The Department of Labor issued a frequently asked questions update to answer some questions and spell out coverage of FDA-approved contraceptives.
The administration made its intentions clear after receiving reports that some insurance companies were considering exceptions in some of their offered plans for some forms of birth control, including emergency "morning-after" contraceptives, implant and intrauterine devices, or hormone-based options such as patches or rings.
Advocates were quick to praise the administration's strong stand.
"It is past time for insurers to adhere to the law and stop telling women that their chosen method isn't covered or that they must pay for it," said Gretchen Borchelt, vice president of health and reproductive services for the National Women's Law Center. "We welcome the administration's guidance and know it will go a long way to improve the health and economic well-being of women and their families."
A push to clarify the rules for covering birth control had come from Democrats in Congress under the leadership of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
"I've been deeply concerned about reports in Washington state and across the country that show insurers are failing to uphold the standards set in the Affordable Care Act when it comes to women's health," she said.
There has been particular opposition to the birth control coverage section of the Affordable Care Act.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaking at a recent commencement address at a Christian university in Virginia, was critical of what he called the administration's "use of coercive federal power."
"What should be easy calls, in favor of religious freedom, have instead become an aggressive stance against it," he said.