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Mothers, insurers navigating new benefits for breast-feeding in the Affordable Care Act

Some breast pump, lactation consultant costs are covered under the Affordable Care Act.
BY JENNIFER PALMER jpalmer@opubco.com Modified: January 19, 2013 at 12:09 am •  Published: January 20, 2013
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Under the Affordable Care Act, women have free access to many preventive health services, but they've especially latched on to breast-feeding benefits that provide new moms a free breast pump.

However, women trying to receive their breast pump are discovering the benefits vary and, in some cases, demand has exceeded supply.

As part of the expanded access to preventive services for women, new health plans must cover and eliminate cost sharing, such as co-pays, on certain health screenings and doctor visits, as well as lactation support and counseling and costs for renting breast-feeding equipment. The law kicked in Aug. 1 but doesn't affect insurance plans until they renew, which for many was Jan. 1.

Breast pumps, which can cost as much as $300, are especially important for mothers returning to work who wish to continue breast-feeding their babies, experts say. Hospital-grade rentals typically run $50-$60 a month but most insurers are choosing to provide the mother with her own pump rather than pay for a rental.

“As moms are finding out about it (the provision), they are thrilled,” said Becky Mannel, lactation manager for The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. “There is a huge need.”

The law doesn't specify whether health insurers must cover certain types or brands of breast pumps. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, for example, provides a manual pump, which costs about $30 and isn't sufficient for most working mothers. The company has 700,000 members in Oklahoma.

Other providers, like Aetna and UnitedHealthcare, which cover 190,000 and 350,000 Oklahomans respectively, allow for a pricier double-electric model under most plans.

Some women are being denied altogether; the changes apply to non-grandfathered plans and new plans as of Aug. 1, 2012. Those insured under a grandfathered plan or a plan that hasn't yet renewed wouldn't qualify.

Keri Kelley, who gave birth in July and works for Chesapeake Energy Corp., called her insurance carrier, Blue Cross Blue Shield, last week and asked about the breast pump benefit. She was told her plan wasn't covered yet and she would only qualify for a manual pump anyway.

“The electric is best for me so that I can work while I pump three times a day,” she said.

Supplies limited

Even more frustrating, some moms who are approved are encountering a breast pump shortage at medical equipment suppliers, where their health insurers require the pumps be purchased.

One supplier, Edgepark Medical Supplies, has this message on its website: “We are experiencing a shortage of breast pumps nationwide and are unable to take breast pump orders at this time. We are sorry for the inconvenience.” Phone calls resulted in the same message with no opportunity to talk to someone or leave a message.

On the website of another supplier, Genadyne, there's no mention of a shortage but calls to the company's toll-free number this week were consistently met with a recorded message saying there were no representatives available due to the volume of calls.

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As moms are finding out about it (the provision), they are thrilled.”

Becky Mannel,
Lactation manager for The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

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