Breast pumps for free, under new health law provisions

Aug 1, 2012

Breastfeeding is already a civil right in Seattle, and now it’s getting financial support everywhere. Under new health rules taking effect today, as part of President Obama’s health law, women will get a number of new "preventive" services covered for free (no co-pays). 

The most talked-about new benefit has been contraceptives – and how some Catholic groups prefer not to pay for birth control. 

But seven other provisions now must be covered by nearly all health insurance plans. One of them is breastfeeding supplies and counseling. 

Food, or medication?

Advocates say there's ample scientific evidence to treat breastfeeding as a form of preventive medicine.

"It lowers lifelong risk of things like diabetes and Crohn's disease so that it really is almost seen as medication," says Barbara Orcutt, a nurse and longtime breastfeeding counselor at Seattle’s Birth and Beyond.

Breastfeeding can also reduce the mother’s cancer risk. 

The latest recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics urge women to breast feed exclusively for the first six months and keep breastfeeding until the child is one year.

For mother’s who return to work, that can be hard. Orcutt says she’s had some clients say they can’t afford a breast pump, especially on top of the cost of childcare. A pump costs about $80 a month to rent. 

The health law also requires coverage for:

  • Well-woman visits.
  • Gestational diabetes screening that helps protect pregnant women from one of the most serious pregnancy-related diseases.
  • Domestic and interpersonal violence screening and counseling.
  • FDA-approved contraceptive methods, and contraceptive education and counseling.
  • HPV DNA testing, for women 30 or older.
  • Sexually transmitted infections counseling for sexually-active women.
  • HIV screening and counseling for sexually-active women.

The requirements apply when insurance plans renew over the next 12 months, with a few exceptions, such as plans that are grandfathered and remain otherwise unchanged.

Extra cost? A little

Washington's two leading insurance companies, Regence Blue Shield and Premera Blue Cross, both say the price of a typical health plan will go up by less than one percent, which might work out to four or five dollars a month on a typical health plan.