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Study Shows Confusion Over Costs When It Comes To Birth Control And Health Insurance

UCI UC Irvine


Under the Affordable Care Act insurance plans are required to cover birth control. But a new study reveals women in Washington State are often told otherwise when they shop for health insurance.

Last summer, about a dozen people pretending to shop for Qualified Health Plans in Washington State called eight different insurers asking questions about of birth control coverage. The callers should have been told that all preventative types, from the pill to an IUD, are covered with no cost. Instead, shoppers got lots of different answers. Many of them required some sort of payment.


“Yes, that drug or device is covered, but there will be cost sharing associated,” said Elizabeth Smith, with Northwest Health Law Advocates, who gave examples of misinformation given to the pretend shoppers, “Or they said, yes we cover IUDs, but you will have to pay for an office visit for insertion and removal,” said Smith.


In some cases, specific types of birth control were listed as being covered on a company's website, but were not mentioned to the caller shopping for insurance who asked specifically about birth control. In other cases callers were told they had to pay a $50 co-pays and prescriptions costs when none were needed.


The report was written by Northwest Health Law Advocates and NARAL Pro Choice Washington. Insurance Commissioner, Mike Kreidler, found the findings distressing. He met with the insurers who promised to retrain their customer care operators.


“The insurance companies, I give them a lot of credit," said Kreidler, "Once we pointed this out to them I think they were embarrassed. They recognized that when people call in they usually have a script to answer for certain questions. This is one where it should have been very simple and easy to answer and they didn’t have it. So they went to work to change the information that they were making available to inquiries.”


Another secret shopper dispatch will happen later this year to make sure all of the changes promised by the insurance companies are actually being implemented.Kreidler’s office is also drafting a sheet of information explaining birth control coverage.

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.