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Health insurers must provide free birth control

Health insurers must also provide other preventive services under new federal rules, which say health insurers can't charge a co-pay.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington June 21, 2011. Under the department's new rules, health insurers must provide free contraceptives to women.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File

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LOS ANGELES – In a move hailed by planned-parenting groups and opposed by some religious organizations,health insurance companies will be required to provide women free birth control, in keeping with new Obama administration guidelines.

The rules, called "historic" by the Department of Health and Human Services, also say that insurance companies must provide women with other preventive services free of charge.

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Monday's new guidelines follow the recent advice from an independent panel of doctors and health experts at the Institute of Medicine, which recommended last month that all approved contraception methods — including the "morning-after pill" — be provided without requiring co-pays.

The panel's recommendations, while supported by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, were fiercely opposed by conservative organizations that argued against the use of tax dollars to cover birth control.

"These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

Along with birth control, the new rules would also require a range of preventive health services to be provided without cost-sharing, including:

—Screening for gestational diabetes.

—HPV testing as a screen for cervical cancer.

—Breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling.

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—Counseling for sexually transmitted infections.