American women should be celebrating today because an important provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is going into effect. Birth control will officially be available to women with no copay, as will breast exams, breast-feeding support, domestic violence counseling, HPV testing, and many other services.  These preventative services will save women a huge sum of money over a lifetime, especially for women who buy birth control pills every month. I spend $20 a month on birth control, which adds up to $240 a year. Assuming I remain on the pill for another ten years, I will be saving $2,400 thanks to the ACA. Other women have even more reason to rejoice, as some birth controls can cost up to $50.

Women can now more easily afford essentials such as healthier food or more gas while not putting off their own health.

However, accessing copay-free services is not as easy as simply waltzing into a pharmacy tomorrow and demanding your birth control. As Jezebel explained recently, there are caveats to accessing these services.

First of all, if you do not have insurance, you cannot access the copay free preventative care yet. This provision only applies to new or re-enrolled plans that start once the provision goes into effect—so today, or any day hereafter. If your insurance is through a religious institution, the provision also does not take effect for another year and uninsured women will have to wait until 2014, unless they are on Medicaid.

Moreover, if a plan has existed since before March 23, 2010 and not changed costs, it may have been grandfathered in and may not need to adjust to the new copay requirements. However, according to the National Council of Jewish Women, if these plans are considered “new” any time after tomorrow, they will still be required to cover these services.

Finally, plans retain the ability to control costs. This means that if a generic is cheaper than another brand of birth control, companies are only required to cover the cost of the generic. If for some reason you cannot take the generic form of your birth control, you may have to pay.

Because every plan is different and the regulations surrounding the provision can be complicated, women should call their health insurance provider and ask them when the copay free services will begin. You need to know when your plan year starts. Most school insurance plans begin in August, and many employers’ plans begin January 1st—so most students can get their co-pay free birth control soon, but many women may need to wait five months to access these services. You should also ask if your specific brand of birth control or other preventative services will be covered.

Today is a day to celebrate! But it’s also a day to pick up the phone and call your insurance company, or talk to your employer, and find out exactly how and when these policy changes will be effecting you.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

#HERvotes, a multi-organization campaign launched in August 2011, advocates women using our voices and votes to stop the attacks on the women’s movement’s major advances, many of which are at risk in the next election.

Image courtesy of the White House.

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Caitlin Highland