In an important step forward for women’s health, the Institute of Medicine has recommended to the federal government that new insurance plans under the health reform law provide contraception without co-pays, deductibles or other out-of-pocket expenses.

“The IOM’s recommendation confirms what we’ve always known: contraception is preventive care,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “If adopted, these recommendations will ensure that millions of women in New York State and nationwide will have access to the contraception they need – an essential part of basic health care.”

Last summer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services commissioned the IOM, an independent panel of doctors and health care experts, to review and recommend women’s preventative health services that should be included in the Department’s guidelines on preventive services under the new health care law.

The IOM has recommended that the list of preventative services should include “the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 99 percent of women aged 15 to 44 who have had sexual intercourse have used at least one type of contraceptive. Without contraception, women have more unintended pregnancies and are less likely to get the prenatal care they require to carry a healthy pregnancy to term.

The high cost of birth control can prevent women from using it consistently. Eliminating out-of-pocket expenses would give women the ability to decide when and whether to have children regardless of the size of their pocketbooks.

The Department of Health and Human Services should accept all of IOM’s recommendations making eight categories of key women’s preventive health services exempt from insurance company co-pays and deductibles and remove cost barriers that cause women to delay or skip needed care.