A series of fact sheets from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) giving Americans advice on “staying healthy” leaves out many effective sexual and reproductive health–related preventive services, a troubling omission that needs to be corrected, argues Guttmacher expert Adam Sonfield in a commentary published in Women’s Health Issues. The four fact sheets—including one with recommendations for women of all ages—were published earlier this year by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a branch of DHHS devoted to evidence-based improvements to the provision of U.S. health care.
“That AHRQ fails to even mention contraceptive care in fact sheets on how women can stay healthy is worrisome,” says Sonfield, a senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute. “Omitting such key information goes against the broad consensus among the medical community and other experts—including other agencies within DHHS itself, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—that contraceptive services are critical to maternal and women’s health, as well as to the social and economic well-being of women and their families.”
Contraceptive services and supplies are among the most widely used forms of preventive care in the United States. Consistent and correct use of contraceptives enables women and couples to prevent unintended pregnancies and to plan and space wanted ones, boosting the health of women and newborns. These wide-ranging benefits are the reason the U.S. government promotes access to contraceptive care, including through the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that private health plans cover preventive services without patient out-of-pocket costs and through public investments in family planning services both in the United States and abroad.
“Perhaps the most important point excluded from the fact sheets is the entire concept of health insurance coverage for preventive services,” says Sonfield. “Nor is there any discussion about how women and men can utilize public or private health insurance—or publicly supported safety-net health centers—to help access and afford the preventive care they need.”
Beyond contraceptive care, the AHRQ fact sheets also omit myriad other preventive services related to sexual and reproductive health that are recommended by agencies within DHHS and that are included in the ACA’s preventive services requirement. For example, sections on immunizations do not mention vaccination for human papillomavirus (HPV), which is recommended for younger women and men if they did not receive it as children, as a way to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts.
“These critical omissions are bad enough, but the fact sheets compound those oversights by seeming to imply that they embody the sum total of DHHS’s preventive care recommendations, when in reality they do not,” says Sonfield. “The federal government is not yet speaking with one voice on these matters of important public health consequence. That can and should be corrected. The first step is to fix these fact sheets, so that the American public can fully benefit from the collective wisdom of the nation’s leading public health experts.”
Full article: “What AHRQ Forgets to Tell Americans About How to Protect Their Sexual and Reproductive Health,” by Adam Sonfield