By JoNel Aleccia
The Seattle Times.
Women in Washington state seeking birth-control coverage through the health-benefit exchange created under the Affordable Care Act are receiving false or misleading information from their insurance carriers, who are bound by the federal law to provide no-cost access to approved methods.
That’s according to a report released Thursday by legal-access and women’s-rights advocates, who conducted a “secret shopper” survey of insurers’ responses to would-be consumer questions about contraceptive coverage last year.
“We were surprised. Some of it was fairly shocking,” said Janet Varon, executive director of Northwest Health Law Advocates, or NoHLA, which conducted the survey in conjunction with NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. “There was wide variation in each plan.”
Representatives for all eight insurers selling Qualified Health Plans (QHPs) under the state exchange provided inaccurate information to the would-be consumers, with many struggling to answer questions about coverage for specific birth-control methods, brands, costs and co-payments. Other customer-service personnel seemed unaware that the 2010 federal law mandates no-cost coverage of all birth-control methods approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Because there are new and more expanded rules from the Affordable Care Act that assure access to coverage, all of us are interested in seeing how health carriers are covering them,” Varon said.
About 158,000 people have enrolled in the state exchange plans, including about 85,000 females, according to state figures. About 40 percent are of reproductive age, between ages 18 and 44, which means inaccurate information could affect some 34,000 Washington women during their childbearing years.
NARAL organizers used 11 volunteers who contacted each of the eight exchange insurers five times between July and November 2014. The insurers include Community Health Plan of Washington, Molina Healthcare of Washington Inc., BridgeSpan Health, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, Premera Blue Cross, LifeWise Health Plan of Washington, Coordinated Care Corporation and Group Health Cooperative.