The Obama administration's birth control mandate took effect Wednesday, granting an estimated 47 million women access to free contraception and a raft of preventive health services.
As of Aug. 1, new or renewing health insurance plans are required to provide birth control to women at no out-of-pocket cost. Houses of worship are exempt and religious nonprofits get a one-year reprieve, as well as the option to pass the cost to the insurance company.
The administration established the much-ballyhooed rule, authorized under the Affordable Care Act and drawing upon recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, on the grounds that improved access to preventive health services prevents illnesses and saves money.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the rule permits free annual well-woman visits for adult females "to obtain the recommended preventive services that are age and developmentally appropriate, including preconception and prenatal care."
Health plans must also provide free screenings for gestational diabetes, human papillomavirus testing and HIV, along with counseling for STDs, breastfeeding and domestic violence.
About 47 million women will have access to these services starting Aug. 1, according to HHS.
"Women deserve to have control over their health care," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "Aug. 1, 2012, ushers in a new day for women's health when, for the first time ever, women will have access to eight new services at no out-of-pocket cost to keep them healthier and to catch potentially serious conditions at an earlier, more treatable stage."
Conservatives decry the birth control requirement a violation of religious freedom. Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal the mandate along with the rest of 'Obamacare' if elected president.