Thursday, August 21, 2014

Not just birth control: here are 7 other things Obamacare covers for free

Robert Giroux/Getty Images News

There's a whole list of preventive services that health plans now have to cover without any cost-sharing from patients — even if a lot of people don't know about them.

Awareness about this part of the law isn't especially high: 43 percent of Americans knew Obamacare eliminated cost sharing for preventive services in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

You can find an exhaustive list of preventive services that have no co-pays here. But if you're looking for a more digestible round-up, here are seven health care services that, under Obamacare, most insured Americans won't have to pay for when they turn up at the doctor.

1) Flu shots

Your standard annual flu shot is a preventive service you can get without a co-pay now. You need to visit a provider that has an arrangement with your insurer — and many actually do contract with pharmacies like Walgreens or CVS.

2) Other vaccines

Standard childhood vaccines like chicken pox, measles, mumps, and rubella are all covered. So is the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which is recommended for women up to age 26.

3) Aspirin (as therapy)

Some people take aspirin every day to reduce risk of heart attack or stroke. People are are higher risk if they have a family history of these conditions, if they smoke, or if they have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

When prescribed by a doctor to reduce these risks, aspirin is available without a copay to adults aged 45 and older (younger people are not considered at high risk).

4) Smoking cessation

Obamacare requires that insurers cover treatments  that help people quit smoking, like nicotine patches and chewing gum. This aims to reduce future expenses related to lung cancer and other diseases associated with tobacco use.

Getting over-the-counter treatments without a co-pay might be more complicated than just showing your insurance card at the register. You may, for example, need to request an authorization letter from your insurer that you can present at the pharmacy.

5) HIV testing

Everyone ages 15 to 65 is eligible for free HIV testing. If a patient is outside of that age range but might at high risk of HIV transmission, testing is free for you, too.

The law also requires insurers to cover syphilis testing without co-payh for high-risk individuals. Other STD testing isn't covered as a free preventive service, but counseling to prevent STDs is.

6) Alcohol counseling

Excessive drinking causes 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults. Obamacare requires insurer to cover screening for alcohol misuse, and counseling from a physician where it's needed.

"Counseling for five, 10, 15 minutes can result in a substantial reduction in problem-drinking," Thomas Frieden, director for the Centers for Disease Control, said in January.

7) Obesity counseling

Health reform similarly requires insurers to cover screening and counseling for obesity. Counseling might involve weight loss and nutritional recommendations. Physicians might recommend more intensive interventions for patients who are very overweight; it's up to the insurer whether the patient is responsible for out-of-pocket costs related to those services.

Some caveats

Obamacare doesn't mean you can walk into any pharmacy and demand a free flu shot, or Nicorette.

To take advantage the preventive care covered without co-pay, you'll need to visit health care providers in your insurer's network — the doctors your insurance plan has contracted with. The new Obamacare rules only apply to in-network care.

If you have the same insurance plan you had on or before March 23, 2010, your plan may be considered "grandfathered" and might not be subject to the same rules as insurance plans created after the Affordable Care Act was passed. If you're not sure, you should call your insurance provider.

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