CVS has promised to refund around 11,000 women who were illegally charged copays for birth control after Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) alerted the chain that they were acting in violation of the Affordable Care Act.

Speier, a ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements, sent a letter to Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS Health earlier this month after she discovered that the pharmacy was erroneously charging women copays for birth control. After receiving her letter, CVS informed the Congresswoman that the illegal charges were a result of a coding error.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance plans, must cover contraceptives at no additional, out-of-pocket cost to consumers. This birth control benefit is a part of an ACA provision that guarantees coverage of preventative health services and screenings, like pap smears or annual check-ups, without cost-sharing.

In a letter to Speier, CVS Health officials said the problem would be fixed by September 26. CVS also indicated that store pharmacists have “been empowered” to take action if any future coding errors occur. On Monday, Speier also encouraged the chain to ensure “pharmacists know the core tenets of the Affordable Care Act to provide effective and legal customer service.” CVS said it will fully reimburse affected customers by October 1.

The Congresswoman’s office has received numerous complaints against other retail pharmacists like Walgreen’s and Target. Speier has recommended that these outlets also provide training to their pharmacy staff to ensure they know how to “apply the basic principles of the Affordable Care Act” to avoid illegal charges.

Two-thirds of American woman now have access to free birth control, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. According to a recent study, the number of users who paid nothing out-of-pocket for oral contraceptives has more than quadrupled since the ACA birth control benefit was implemented. Gaps in coverage, however, remain. The National Women’s Law Center has set up a hotline and online information center for women who are still paying out-of-pocket for contraceptive coverage or who are having difficulty accessing benefits.

Media Resources: Office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier 9/9/14, 9/19/14; 9/22/14; Huffington Post 9/24/14; Feminist Newswire 9/22/14; National Women’s Law Center

 

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