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New Obamacare Patients Stock Up on Drugs, Except Birth Control

New patients who bought health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges have been stocking up on prescriptions, except for birth control, new data show.
Image: Plan B
Americans buying health policies on the new exchanges rushed to fill prescriptions - with the exception of birth control, a new report shows.Scott Olson / Getty Images, file

New patients who bought health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges have been stocking up on prescriptions, with one notable exception — birth control, new data show.

The report from prescription provider Express Scripts shows many more new patients than usual filled prescriptions for drugs that fight the AIDS virus, for pain medications, for pricey specialty medications to treat chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis, for anti-seizure drugs and for antidepressants.

But the proportion of prescriptions filled for contraceptives was 31 percent lower than the average in plans the provider usually handles. That might be ironic, as the issue of paying for birth control became first a partisan battle in Washington, and one that’s gone all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard arguments last month on two suits by private companies that want to limit the types of birth control they pay for.

The new exchanges are a way to buy private health insurance, with federal subsidies for many Americans. Express Scripts looked at details of more than 650,000 prescriptions it filled in January and February, the first two months that people could have coverage under the new policies.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover a range of “essential” health needs, including contraception, cancer screening and vaccinations. Insurers must also cover anyone who applies and they must pay for prescription drugs, although they may charge a co-pay.

“More than six in every 1,000 prescriptions in the Exchange plans were for a medication to treat HIV. This proportion is nearly four times higher in Exchange plans than in commercial health plans,” Express Scripts reports. HIV drugs can be expensive, costing $12,000 or more a year.

The report is just a snapshot of the very first people to start making claims on their new health insurance, and only includes claims filled by Express Scripts, which handles about a third of the prescriptions filled in the U.S.

“The proportion of pain medication was 35 percent higher in Exchange plans,” it adds.

Details on what kinds of services people get when using the new insurance plans will be important for determining how well the ACA is working. If newly insured patients cost insurers a lot of money, premiums could go up more than normal over the coming years.

“This early analysis suggests this new benefit is providing patients with access to the medication they need,” the report reads.