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Yesterday afternoon, First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke at George Washington University Hospital to announce the release of new guidelines that will provide free preventive health care services under the Affordable Care Act.

For cancer prevention, the new guidelines will mean that most insurance plan can no longer charge copayments, deductibles or coinsurance for a number of preventive services including colorectal cancer, breast cancer screening, cervical cancer, obesity counseling for children and vaccinations.  The regulation takes effect on Sept. 23, and it only applies to plans that are new after that, meaning that people who stay on their existing plan won’t benefit from the change.  Those that will benefit, estimated to be 41 million Americans initially, will see the benefit on January 1, 2011.  Coincidentally, that is also when Medicare beneficiaries begin to receive most preventive services at no additional charge, also mandated in the Affordable Care Act.

The four sets of preventive services that new health insurance plans are mandated to cover are:

  • Screenings strongly recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force graded “A” or “B.”
  • Routine vaccines, including childhood immunizations and tetanus boosters for adults.
  • Well-baby visits, vision and hearing tests for children, and counseling to help youngsters maintain a healthy weight.
  • Women’s health screenings.

These guidelines represent a strong step forward for cancer prevention in this country.