Copyright 2000 Journal Sentinel Inc.
July 20, 2000 Thursday FINAL EDITION
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 12A
LENGTH: 394 words
Suit seeks coverage for contraceptives;
Planned Parenthood says firm's
refusal to pay for pill is discrimination
LEWIN New York Times
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
"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
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
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.
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.
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