On May 11, 2015, the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services issued the 26th in a series of Frequently Asked Questions on implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The FAQs provide needed clarification on several aspects of no-cost preventive health services required to be provided under the Act. Key points are summarized below.
Expanded BRCA Genetic Testing and Counseling
- The FAQ extends BRCA genetic testing and counseling without cost sharing to women who do not have a family history of the specified cancers, but who themselves have had breast, ovarian, or other cancer that was not diagnosed as BRCA-related. Medical studies cited in the FAQ found that these women show an increased risk of gene mutation, even in the absence of a family history of cancer, such that genetic testing could identify and prevent later disease. No-cost genetic testing and counseling for these women, even when asymptomatic and cancer free, is thus a logical extension of current preventive care guidelines triggered by family disease history.
Dependent Access to Well-woman Preventive Care
- Dependent children may receive recommended preventive care services without cost sharing under non-grandfathered group health plans and individual policies; the ACA defines “dependent” as children up to age 26. Accordingly, female dependents may receive well-woman preventive services through age 25, including preconception care and prenatal care, where those services are determined to be age- and developmentally appropriate. Dependent coverage need not be extended to the child of a child receiving dependent coverage.
Access to Sex-Specific Preventive Care
- Sex-specific preventive care and screening must be provided at no cost whenever an individual’s attending provider determines that it is medically appropriate, irrespective of the individual’s sex assigned at birth, gender identity, or recorded gender. In the example given, a transgender man with residual breast tissue would qualify for a mammogram with no cost sharing if other criteria for the preventive service, and for coverage, are met.
- Note: “attending provider” includes licensed individual healthcare providers to the patient in question, and does not include plans, issuers, hospitals or HMOs.
Clarification re: No-Cost Coverage of Contraceptive Methods
- Group health plans and issuers must cover, without cost sharing, at least one form of each of the 18 methods of birth control methods for women that are identified in, among other sources, the current version of the FDA Birth Control Guide. The no-cost coverage of the contraception method must also include related clinical services, such as patient education and counseling.
- This rule takes effect for plan or policy years beginning on or after July 10, 2015; the delayed effective date allows time for changes to be made by plans and issuers who reasonably interpreted prior guidance as not requiring that at least one form of contraception in each of the 18 methods be offered without cost sharing. Based on this principle, it is not permitted to cover oral contraceptives with no cost sharing, while imposing cost sharing on other FDA-identified hormonal contraceptive methods such as emergency contraception or the contraceptive patch.
- Within each of the 18 methods of contraception, plans and issuers may use reasonable medical management techniques and impose cost sharing to encourage use of specific services or FDA-approved items within that method. For instance, a plan could provide generic birth control pills at no cost and impose cost sharing for brand name pills. However, the plan would need to make exceptions, and waive cost sharing for name brand drugs, for women for whom it was medically inadvisable to take the generic version.
- When multiple medically appropriate services and FDA-approved items exist within a given contraceptive method, plans and issuers may use reasonable medical management techniques to encourage use of some services and methods over others. However, if a woman’s attending provider recommends a specific service or item based on medical necessity, the plan or issuer must cover the service or item without cost sharing.
- “Medical necessity” in this context may take into account the severity of side effects, differences in permanence and reversibility of contraceptives, and the ability to adhere to the appropriate use of the item or service, as determined by the attending provider.
- In either instance (exception to medical management technique, or recommendation of specific service or item) the process for obtaining coverage must be efficient, transparent, easily accessible and not unduly burdensome to the patient, her attending provider, or other authorized representative, and the plan or issuer must defer to the determination of the attending provider regarding medical necessity. In addition, the plan or issuer must determine the claim within the time periods, and in the manner, applicable to a pre-service, post-service, or urgent care claim, as is appropriate under the circumstances. (Requests that involve urgent care must be resolved as soon as possible, but no later than 72 hours after receipt.)
- Note that group health plans established by or maintained by religious employers (generally limited to “steeple” churches or other houses of worship) are exempt from the requirement to cover contraceptive services, and accommodations are available to group health plans maintained by certain nonprofit organizations founded on religious principle. Guidance related to the religious exemption is summarized here.