Is it true that Obamacare’s preventive care mandates only help women?

Q. I’ve heard that Obamacare’s preventive care mandates only help women. I’m a man, and I feel like I’m getting the short end of the stick.

A: Never fear, the ACA mandates free preventive care for everyone. There are certain services that are specific to all adults, some for children, and a separate subset that apply to women. HHS has explained why there was a special need for mandated benefits that apply to women’s health – for the most part, it’s preventive care that applies to illnesses or conditions that only – or predominantly – impact women.

But “free preventive care” is not a catch-all phrase. The service in question has to fall into one of three categories in order to be under the umbrella of preventive care that non-grandfathered plans must provide at no cost to the consumer (at the time of service; it’s understood that the cost of preventive care is wrapped into the premiums that we all pay each month):

Note that a one-time abdominal aortic aneurysm screening for men age 65-75 who have ever smoked is a covered preventive service that only applies to men. But in general, the recommended preventive health care services for men also fall into the category of preventive health care for adults: Things like alcohol screening, blood pressure and cholesterol screening, colonoscopies, STI screening, and Type 2 Diabetes screening (for adults with hypertension) are all preventive services that apply to both men and women.

What about PSA screening, you might ask? Why is that not one of the adult preventive services covered at no cost by all plans? Well, because it’s actually not recommended. The USPSTF gives it a grade of D, and “recommends against prostate-specific antigen (PSA)–based screening for prostate cancer.”

There are lots of preventive care services that get ratings below a B on the USPSTF grading system. Unless they’re otherwise covered under the recommendations from HRSA or the CDC, they’re not considered recommended preventive care, and are thus not required to be covered by health insurance plans (note that insurers can cover them at no cost to the member, they just aren’t required to do so).

The contraception exception

Although most recommended preventive care for men is covered at no cost under the ACA’s preventive care guidelines, one exception is contraceptives. The Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines include all FDA-approved methods of contraception for women, which means that insurers have to cover at least one type of each method at no cost to the member. But there is no requirement that insurers pay for FDA-approved contraceptives for men.

Virtually all of the FDA-approved methods of contraception apply to women — the only exceptions are condoms and vasectomies. Female condoms are covered under the ACA’s preventive care rules if they’re prescribed by a doctor. Insurers do not have to cover male condoms, but those are generally purchased over the counter anyway, without a prescription.

But vasectomies can be expensive, and are obviously not available in a drugstore. Although female sterilization (which costs a lot more than a vasectomy) is covered in full on non-grandfathered health plans, the same is not true for male sterilization. Some health plans do cover all or part of the cost of a vasectomy, but they are not required to do so.

While mandated contraceptive and maternity coverage under the ACA are specific to women, there is no doubt that they are beneficial to both men and women, since babies – and unintended pregnancies – have fathers.

Louise Norris is an individual health insurance broker who has been writing about health insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and educational pieces about the Affordable Care Act for Her state health exchange updates are regularly cited by media who cover health reform and by other health insurance experts.

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