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

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July 22, 1999, THURSDAY, Late Sports Final Edition


LENGTH: 408 words

HEADLINE: Extend coverage

BYLINE: Editorials

A nationwide push to force health insurers to pay for birth control has gained momentum, winning the endorsement last week of yet another medical group. It appears inevitable that the position of the American Osteopathic Association and other groups -- that any health insurance plan that covers prescription drugs should also include contraceptives for women -- eventually will prevail.

Employers and the insurance industry oppose the creeping encroachment of mandated medical care. In recent years, state and federal laws have required insurers to pay for minimum stays after childbirth, mastectomies or heart bypass operations. And, indeed, it is unwarranted interference when government starts legislating medicine. But with prescription drug insurance, it is a matter of parity. Many insurance plans pay for Viagra, a pill to treat sexual dysfunction in men, while excluding birth control. To women everywhere, that smacks of discrimination. And women have demonstrated clout at the polls in a number of recent elections. They will be heard on this issue, too.

A 1995 survey by the Alan Guttmacher Institute showed that 84 percent of health maintenance organizations paid for the Pill, but only 39 percent covered injections, implants and other forms of reversible contraception. Coverage was more restricted under traditional insurance plans, with only 33 percent paying for the Pill and just 15 percent covering all five methods of reversible birth control.

Nine states recently passed legislation requiring that contraceptives be included in prescription plans. Illinois is among the 15 states that have rejected birth control coverage, citing increased costs for insurers and employers. But statistics will show there is a greater cost in unintended pregnancies -- whether though abortions or through prenatal care, labor and delivery. And there are no statistics on the costs to society -- in terms of welfare and crime -- of unwanted children.

Market forces should determine which medical conditions and prescription drugs are included in health insurance plans. One of those forces in this instance is the powerful voice of women who see the insurance system as biased against them. When there is evidence of discrimination, the state probably will see a duty to step in with mandates for equal benefits. The health insurance industry in Illinois would best take the lead and extend coverage to contraceptives.

LOAD-DATE: July 22, 1999

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