Washington: Starting a year from now, US health insurers will be required to pay for women`s contraceptives, according to a decision Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The new guidelines, developed as part of the regulations for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will also apply to the so-called "morning-after" pill.
The decision satisfies the demands of entities such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, but it was rejected by conservative groups.
However, HHS included an amendment that permits religious institutions to elect whether or not to cover birth control in their insurance plans.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops earlier had urged HHS to exclude family planning as a service.
President Barack Obama`s healthcare plan has already included free exams and preventive treatments.
Other preventive services specifically for women that will become free starting in August 2012 are annual general checkups and exams for gestational diabetes, the human papilloma virus (HPV), the HIV virus - which causes AIDS - and domestic violence screening.
The Institute of Medicine published a report in July, on the order of the Obama administration, in which it recommended that all approved contraceptives should be included on the list of preventive healthcare services.
"These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature, and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need," HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.