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Copyright 1999 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.  
Chicago Sun-Times

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July 19, 1999, MONDAY, Late Sports Final Edition


LENGTH: 412 words

HEADLINE: Medical groups support coverage of birth control


      The nationwide campaign to force health insurers to pay for birth control picked up new support last weekend at a medical conference in Chicago.

The American Osteopathic Association endorsed state laws requiring that any health plan that covers prescription drugs also cover contraceptives for women.

Maryland passed a contraceptive mandate last year and Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Vermont followed suit this year. Fifteen other states, including Illinois, have seriously considered legislation, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Some laws exempt religious employers that have moral objections to birth control.

Congress is considering similar legislation. The campaign was sparked by anger that some health plans pay for Viagra but not for birth control.

"The exclusion of contraceptive coverage by insuring companies is discriminatory against women and their health," the Osteopathic Association said. The association, which represents more than 43,000 osteopathic doctors, met at the Fairmont Hotel.

A 1995 Guttmacher Institute survey found that 84 percent of HMOs paid for the Pill. But only 39 percent of plans covered all five reversible methods -- the Pill, IUD, diaphragm, Depo-Provera and Norplant. Among traditional insurance plans, in which patients pick their own doctors, only 33 percent paid for the Pill and only 15 percent paid for all five methods.

Last spring, the Illinois House passed a bill that would require any plan that pays for Viagra to also cover birth control. The bill died in the Senate. Sponsor Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) plans to try again next year.

The insurance industry and employer groups opposed Flowers' bill. To pay for a contraceptive mandate, employers might have to raise premiums or reduce coverage of other benefits, said Chris Hamrick of the Illinois Association of HMOs. "Sexism makes for a great sound bite," Hamrick said. "But it's not an issue of sexism. It's a matter of cost."

Covering all reversible birth control methods would cost health plans an average of $ 1.78 per month per employee, the Guttmacher Institute estimates. The average employee share would be 36 cents.

Not paying for contraceptives is penny wise, pound foolish, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said. Contraceptives reduce costs from unintended pregnancies, including maternity care, miscarriages, abortions, labor and delivery, ACOG said.


LOAD-DATE: July 21, 1999

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