Tang Center to provide free sexual health services to women with SHIP insurance

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The Affordable Care Act’s controversial provision — which essentially provides free women’s preventative sexual health services — went into effect Wednesday, and in the near future, the UC Student Health Insurance Plan will begin to implement a similar practice.

On Aug. 15, SHIP will join insurance providers across the nation in starting to offer many female health services, such as birth control, pap smears, virus testing and mammograms, without requiring co-payments from patients.

The SHIP women’s preventative health care plan was developed last year ahead of the mandate from the Affordable Care Act — commonly known as Obamacare — at the UC Office of the President when groups of students and executive leaders debated many new health care benefits and their costs, according to Kim LaPean, communications manager for the Tang Center at UC Berkeley.

LaPean said the Tang Center is thrilled to be able to offer this type of comprehensive sexual health coverage.

“Whatever national laws go into effect, our plan is going to align with that,” LaPean said. “We’re going to comply and try to go above and beyond (the national regulations) whenever we can.”

Currently, SHIP members pay $5 a month specifically for birth control coverage. While this fee will no longer be administered in the upcoming school year, the annual health insurance cost added to tuition for those without off-campus insurance can still be expected to rise as a result of medical inflation and the implementation of proactive benefits, according to LaPean.

Staff coordinator for the Sexual Health Education Program — a group of student-peer sexual health educators on campus — Robin Mills said she hopes that students who previously saw cost as a prohibitive factor will begin to use the preventative services, but that it all depends on whether or not students are aware of the co-paying change.

“We already talk about the methods available at the Tang Center,” Mills said. “It will be exciting for us to tell students they can receive many of these methods free of charge.”

At the Tang Center, LaPean said women’s health and contraceptives in general are the leading reasons behind patient visits, and about 50 percent of the center’s primary health care visits are related to sexual health.

Campus senior Christina Avalos, who receives SHIP coverage, believes the attitudes on campus toward birth control and other women’s preventive services will change once the plan is implemented.

“(Birth control is) not much of a taboo thing right now, but I think it will become less so as it will become so easily accessible,” Avalos said. “There’s not going to be that negative social context attached to it hopefully in the future, as getting this kind of preventative care will perpetuate better social conditions for women.”