A federal health law provision that took effect last August or two weeks ago (depending on your insurance plan) requires insurance coverage for breast pumps for nursing mothers. I think it speaks to the power of the women’s health lobby that these $250-to-$400 devices have mandated coverage — either for purchase or rental — while eye glasses, hearing aids, and dental care do not.
But that’s a debate for another day.
As a practical matter, new mothers who need to leave their babies to go back to work can more easily continue nursing with insurance coverage for these expensive breast pumps. Employers also need to set aside time to allow their employees to pump once or twice a day. Both of these are sensible health measures for mother and baby.
“We have seen an increase in the volume of breast pumps we’re selling since New Year’s,’’ said Andrea Jorgensen, a certified lactation consultant at Lactation Care in Newton, which sells and rents a variety of breast pumps.
Insurance plans that renewed in 2013 had to implement the provision as of January 1. New plans had to begin offering the coverage beginning last August.
Women ordering breast pumps through their insurance for either purchase or rental, she said, typically get a stripped down version of an electric double pump that sells for about $250 retail. The machine allows women to pump both breasts at once and has the same grade motor for good suctioning power, but it doesn’t have certain features such as a cooler bag or a battery back-up that enables the pump to be used without an electrical outlet.
“They may not come with all bells and whistles — the carrying bag isn’t as nice — but it helps insurance companies keep the cost down,’’ Jorgensen said. Women who have ordered pumps using Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts or Harvard Pilgrim Health Care coverage typically don’t have to pay any out-of-pocket costs for their pumps, she added. Others may have to pay up to a $50 copay, depending on their company’s policy.
With increased demand because of insurance coverage, breast pump manufacturers have had some supply glitches for both retail pumps and those made especially for insurers. “Some of the orders that we placed for retail pumps have been delayed,’’ Jorgensen said. She’s seen quite a few professional moms who have opted out of the insurance coverage, deciding to buy fancier pumps with nicer accessories and the battery backup option.
Regardless of which pump women choose, they have to take steps to keep all the parts clean and free of bacteria and mold.
The US Food and Drug Administration recommends the following tips.
— Rinse each piece that comes into contact with breast milk in cool water as soon as possible after pumping.
— Wash each piece separately using liquid dishwashing soap and plenty of warm water.
— Rinse each piece thoroughly with hot water for 10-15 seconds.
— Place the pieces on a clean paper towel or in a clean drying rack and allow them to air dry.