A coalition of national health professional organizations, as well as women’s health consumer and patient advocates, are updating the federal Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines. If the recommendations are adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), it will help ensure that women receive a comprehensive set of preventive services without having to pay a copayment, co-insurance, or deductible.
In 2011, HRSA worked with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to develop the initial guidance, which outlines which preventive health screenings and services should be offered routinely to patients. It also has served as the basis for determining insurance coverage at no cost-sharing to the patient under the Affordable Care Act. It was recommended that the guidance be updated every five years.
After a competitive process, HRSA in March 2016 awarded approximately $950,000 in funding per year for a five-year cooperative agreement to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The organization is responsible for the development and administration of the Women’s Preventive Services Initiative, a collaborative coalition process to review and recommend updates to the current guidance. Adolescent care providers may be familiar with this approach. It is similar to the cooperative agreement HRSA has with the American Academy of Pediatrics for developing and updating the Bright Futures guidelines for well-child and adolescent care.
ACOG is working with a coalition of national health professional organizations representing providers, patients, and academics to conduct a rigorous review of the current scientific evidence and recommend updates to the existing guidelines. The American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Physicians, and National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health serve on the advisory panel. Participating organizations in the multidisciplinary steering committee include the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, and the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses.
The panel has reviewed the existing women’s preventive services recommendations and released draft guidance. Public comments were solicited until Sept. 30, 2016. All recommendations are due to HRSA on Dec. 1, 2016, says Megan Christin, an ACOG spokesperson. The federal agency will go through its internal processes of whether to adopt the Initiative’s recommendations. The draft guidance expands the range of contraceptive methods and services covered under the women’s preventive services guidelines, as well as mechanisms for coverage, says Britt Wahlin, vice president for development and public affairs at Ibis Reproductive Health in Cambridge, MA, an international nonprofit organization with a mission to improve women’s reproductive autonomy, choices, and health worldwide.
“We are especially excited that the draft guidance includes coverage of over-the-counter (OTC) methods without a prescription,” notes Wahlin. “This is significant because, under the current guidelines, insurance plans subject to the coverage mandate must cover OTC methods, but they can require women to have a prescription if they want to use their insurance to obtain them.”