Who's Going To Get Free Birth Control?

So you ring up your birth control prescription at the pharmacy this month and the clerk says "that will be $0." Cha-ching. You can't beat that price.

But unfortunately the more common scenario is that the clerk asks for the $10, $20, or $35 co-pay they've asked for every month. What happened to the "free preventive care services," including contraception, that were promised under the Affordable Care Act, anyway?

The Affordable Care Act has been slowly rolling in requirements for preventive-care benefits in which most insurance plans must cover and eliminate cost-sharing for recommended preventive health services, including contraception. (Health plans that are "grandfathered" in don't have to comply yet.) Zero cost contraception was welcome news to many women.

Under the law, women should have access to the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods at zero cost, as well as patient education and counseling. This includes, but is not limited to, a range of pills, the ring, the patch, the shot, implants, hormonal intrauterine devices, non-hormonal intrauterine devices, barrier methods and sterilization procedures.

But when it comes to free-contraception benefit, there has been some confusion. It turns out there are different dates for when the contraceptive benefit becomes available.

For some plans it went into effect Aug. 12, 2012. Grandfathered health plans can wait until 2014.

"Groups that were grandfathered, which meant they had policies in place at the time the law went into effect and they haven't changed at all in terms of deductibles and co-pays, are exempt from adding the preventive coverage until January 2014," says Lynda Feder, treasurer of the New Jersey Association of Heath Underwriters (NJAHU) and an insurance broker who works with small employers.

What contraceptives are covered?

There's also confusion about which contraceptives will actually be free. The Affordable Care Act says "all FDA-approved contraception as prescribed" should be covered. However, many women are finding that their insurers cover only a few contraceptive choices, or cover only generic prescriptions, or haven't renewed the policies yet and so the benefit hasn't kicked in.