WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- U.S. government officials say a final rule requires most health insurance plans to cover contraceptive services for women without additional charges.
"Beginning Aug. 1, 2012, most new and renewed health plans will be required to cover these services without cost sharing for women across the country," Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "However, non-profit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until Aug. 1, 2013, to comply with the new law."
The additional year will allow organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to the rule, Sebelius said.
"We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support," she said.
"This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty," Sebelius said.
"I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services," she said. "Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, it is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women."
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