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January Policy Roundup

1. In a new Op-Ed, a HealthyWomen policy advisor urged health insurers to stop blocking access to contraception

Martha Nolan, senior policy advisor at HealthyWomen, recently published an Op-Ed in The Hill urging health insurers to live up to Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements that they provide free access to any FDA-approved contraceptives that a patient’s healthcare provider deems necessary. Despite the ACA rules, Nolan argued that insurers often deny coverage or make it hard for people to access their preferred contraception. She noted that, in the first year after the ACA was implemented, American women saved $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs, yet those savings are now at risk.

2. The Biden administration reiterates contraceptive coverage requirements for health insurers

The U.S. Department of Labor issued a reminder to health insurers that the Affordable Care Act requires them to cover FDA-approved contraception without cost to the consumer. The reminder followed complaints that some insurers have been denying claims for certain contraceptive products and that some insurers are requiring patients to try other methods before approving the product their healthcare provider deems most medically appropriate.

3. The federal government announced updates to preventive care guidelines for women

In early January 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced updated guidelines for preventive care and screening for women and children. Specifically, the Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines now include a requirement that group health insurance plans cover double electric breast pumps for nursing mothers without a copayment or deductible and include updated guidance on well-woman preventive visits, access to contraception, screening for HIV, counseling for sexually transmitted infections, and counseling aimed at reducing obesity for women ages 40 to 60.

4. HealthyWomen provided comment on the CDC’s pneumococcal vaccine guidance

This month, HealthyWomen’s president and CEO Beth Battaglino, RN-C, and senior policy advisor Martha Nolan submitted written comments to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) about its pneumococcal vaccine recommendations. HealthyWomen urged ACIP to provide clear guidance in support of new FDA-approved pneumonia vaccines. Pneumococcal vaccines are important to protect the health of older adults, especially women. More women than men die from pneumonia even though more men get the infection. Despite evidence that pneumococcal vaccines are 60% to 70% effective in preventing invasive disease in older adults, and are even more effective in older women, vaccination rates were only 71% among adults 65 and older in 2020.

5. HealthyWomen urged the FDA to balance access to hearing aids with consumer protections

In written comments, HealthyWomen weighed in on proposed regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would allow over-the-counter (OTC) sales of hearing aids for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss without the involvement of a hearing care professional. HealthyWomen supports efforts to improve the accessibility and affordability of hearing aids. But as written, the proposed rules may not sufficiently protect consumers from unsafe or ineffective use of OTC products. HealthyWomen urged the FDA to adopt consensus guidelines to balance accessibility and safety.

6. New studies shed light on the relationship between Covid-19 vaccines and menstrual cycles and conception

A new study may put to rest internet rumors and social media anecdotes suggesting that Covid-19 vaccines may disrupt menstrual cycles. The research, published this month in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, analyzed menstrual cycles for nearly 4,000 individuals, both vaccinated and unvaccinated. Results showed that, while Covid-19 vaccination was associated with a slight increase in the length of a woman’s overall menstrual cycle, there was no association between the vaccines and the length of a woman’s period.

New data from the National Institutes of Health showed that Covid-19 vaccination does not affect the chances of becoming pregnant. The study of more than 2,000 couples found that either partner being vaccinated had no effect on chances of conception. However, if the male partner had been infected with Covid-19 within 60 days of a given cycle, the couple was 18% less likely to conceive in that cycle.

7. A new test to detect pregnancy complications may be on the horizon

New research published this month in the journal Nature holds promise for a blood test that could predict preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and increased risk of preterm birth. Researchers created a blood test that reliably identified signs of preeclampsia months before symptoms appeared. These findings could allow for personalized assessments during pregnancy using objective measures which, in turn, could improve maternal health by identifying women at highest risk for complications much earlier in pregnancy.

8. Women have worse outcomes when they have surgery performed by male surgeons, according to recent research

A recent study published in JAMA Surgery showed that women who have surgery with a male surgeon are more likely to have a bad outcome than women with female surgeons. In the study, which analyzed more than 1.3 million patients and nearly 2,400 surgeons, women operated on by men had a 32% greater risk of death and a 16% higher chance of major complications than women operated on by other women. Though men generally had comparable outcomes regardless of the sex of their surgeon, men had a 13% greater chance of death when operated on by a man compared to when they were operated on by a woman.

9. California has become the first state in the nation to require health insurers to cover at-home STI tests

A California law aimed at addressing rising sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates took effect on January 1, 2022. The new law requires health insurers to pay for at-home STI tests. The law will first apply to private health insurance plans regulated by the state and later roll out to the state’s Medicaid program. Kaiser Health News reported that STIs have hit all-time highs in California and the United States as a whole for six years in a row.

10. Female doctors have been quicker to adopt telehealth, according to a new study

Female doctors were more likely to embrace telehealth during the pandemic, according to new research published in JAMA Network Open. The study analyzed nearly 3,500 physicians and found that 94% had transitioned to offering telehealth services by December 2020. Female doctors were more likely than males to be early adopters of telehealth, defined as those who adopted telehealth during the week of March 15, 2020 — just as the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning.

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