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Copyright 2000 Journal Sentinel Inc.  
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

July 20, 2000 Thursday FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 394 words

HEADLINE: Suit seeks coverage for contraceptives;
Planned Parenthood says firm's refusal to pay for pill is discrimination


   In a case that could have broad impact on contraceptive coverage nationwide, Planned Parenthood filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday charging that a company whose health insurance plan covers most prescription drugs, but excludes contraceptives, is illegally discriminating against its female employees.

"It's sex discrimination when male employees get their basic health care needs covered by insurance, but women are forced to pay for their own," said Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The case, brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, was filed in federal court in Seattle on behalf of Jennifer Erickson, a pharmacist at the Bartell Drug Co., and all other female employees of the company, which operates 45 drugstores in Washington.

Erickson, who is 26, married and spends more than $300 a year out of pocket on her own contraception, said she had become increasingly troubled by the inequity as she had to tell women who came to the store that their insurance would not pay for contraceptive prescriptions.

Mike McMurray, Bartell's vice president for marketing, said the company had worked hard to provide the health benefits its employees consider most valuable. "No medical benefits program covers every possible cost," he said, going on to add that Bartell, for example, does not pay for infertility drugs, Viagra or cosmetic surgery.

The issue of contraceptive coverage has been a rallying point for women's rights activists for several years -- especially because many employers who do not pay for contraception moved quickly to provide coverage for Viagra, which, at nearly $10 a pill, is used to combat impotence.

While almost all traditional indemnity insurance plans provide coverage for some prescription drugs, only about half cover any of the five contraceptive methods available by prescription -- oral contraceptive pills, the intrauterine device, Depo Provera, Norplant and diaphragm -- all of them prescribed to women. And only about a third cover the pill, which costs about a dollar a day. Even among HMOs, which offer the most comprehensive coverage, only 39% cover all five methods, and 7% do not cover the pill.

As a result, a study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute found, women of reproductive age typically spend 68% more on out-of-pocket health care than men.

LOAD-DATE: July 20, 2000

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