Lots of people are talking about the decision on the part of HHS that all forms of contraception be covered for all insured men and women for “free” as basic preventive services under health reform. This decision came not a minute too soon. Recently I found myself having to call in a prior authorization for birth control for one of my patients. At first I figured it was just that the insurance didn’t pay for the birth control patch, Ortho-Evra, but did pay for other methods. However, it turned out to be more complicated. The entire conversation took a half hour and went more or less as follows:
Me: This is Dr. Pro Choice. I’m calling to get a prior authorization for ortho-evra for my patient.
Customer Service Associate: OK, let me look into that for you…(5 minutes of terrible muzak later) I’m showing we don’t cover that medication.
Me: Right, that’s why I’m calling. Can you tell me why you don’t cover that medication?
CSA: Let me look into that for you… (5 minutes of even worse muzak later) We don’t cover any contraceptive methods.
Me: What? Are you sure?
CSA: Yes Ma’am, this plan that your patient signed up for does not cover contraceptive methods.
Me: (after a moment of disbelief) So how can I get this for my patient? She can’t afford it on her own. She has Medicaid.
CSA: You can make an application.
Me: Great, let’s do that.
CSA: What is the diagnosis?
CSA: Yes, what is the diagnosis?
Me: (long pause) Female?
CSA: That is not an accepted diagnosis
Me: Human? Able to get pregnant? Sexually active?
CSA: Those are not accepted either.
Me: Umm, OK, menorrhagia [not the real reason but a ‘real’ diagnosis].
[1 minute on hold]
CSA: Your request has been approved.
I wish I could say I made this up, but it happened just a few weeks before this decision came from HHS. There IS no diagnosis code justifying contraception as a way to avoid pregnancy, because diagnosis codes are built around illness. Avoiding pregnancy usually isn’t about already being sick, it’s about preventing something from happening. So birth control clearly belongs in the list of preventive services.
I fear politics will get in the way of the HHS ruling that all contraceptive services be covered free of charge under all insurers starting next year, but if not, women with private or public insurance will not have to pay for their birth control. This is a huge step for all women, and a small step for doctors like me who will no longer have to have conversations such as the one above.