Health insurers improve public information on contraceptive coverage but problems remain with customer service

Most health insurers offering coverage on Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange present clear information about contraceptive coverage on their websites, but their customer service representatives often give women inaccurate information about available types of contraception and costs.

For a new progress report, Northwest Health Law Advocates (NoHLA) reviewed the information available to women making decisions about contraceptive options. Since the original investigation in 2015, most health insurers have clarified contraceptive coverage options for consumers by creating informational flyers and improving information in their formularies. Many have adopted or simplified their procedures for approving non-formulary contraceptives. However, spot check calls to customer service and sales representatives revealed that some were still providing inaccurate information to consumers that often contradicted what was on their websites.

Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurers must cover all federally approved methods of contraception with no copays or co-insurance, with few exceptions. In its 2015 report, NoHLA and NARAL identified numerous deficiencies and made six recommendations for improvements. Insurers responded with additional staff training, clarifications of available contraceptive methods in formularies, and creation of customer-facing informational materials.

Four health insurers adopted the recommendation to cover over-the-counter emergency contraception without a prescription, at no cost to the member. We commend Coordinated Care, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington (formerly Group Health) and Molina for taking this step to make it easier for women to prevent unintended pregnancies.

“We are pleased that insurers responded to our recommendations by improving the information about contraceptive coverage that is available online,” said Janet Varon, Executive Director of NoHLA. “Unfortunately, many of their representatives are still providing incorrect information to callers and some refuse to answer callers’ questions, indicating a need for additional training.”

The report breaks down the results and recommendations for each insurer providing individual health coverage on Washington Healthplanfinder. Most of the erroneous information came from customer service representatives who told women – incorrectly – that they would have to pay cost-sharing for emergency contraception and medical methods of contraception (subdermal implants and IUDs). “Correct information from insurers is critical to enabling women to access contraception, avoid unintended pregnancies, and exercise control over their reproductive health,” said Janet Chung, Legal and Legislative Counsel for Legal Voice.

Insurance Commissioner, Mike Kreidler says, “I appreciate the willingness of the health insurers in our state to work with NoHLA and our office to ensure that women are receiving access to all birth-control methods. It’s vital that we work together to continue to make it easier to access these services. It’s important for the health of all women in our state.”

Tiffany Hankins, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington adds, “Women need full, accurate, up-to-date information in order to make informed health care decisions. We’re encouraged by the improvements insurers have made to the information they provide online; we hope they will continue this progress by taking the next, crucial step and training their customer service representatives to provide accurate information about women’s contraceptive options.”