Copyright 2000 P.G. Publishing Co.
December 20, 2000, Wednesday, SOONER EDITION
SECTION: EDITORIAL, Pg. A-30
LENGTH: 444 words
THE EEOC GOES TO BAT FOR WOMEN'S HEALTH NEEDS
Women have been complaining for years
that many health plans in the United States do not provide coverage for
contraception, which is basic health care for millions of women. When those same
plans almost instantly began paying for Viagra when that impotency treatment
went on the market, the issue came center stage.
The cause of equal
protection took a leap forward when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
ruled recently that refusing coverage for contraception can be a violation of
the Civil Rights Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires equal
treatment of women "affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical
conditions." The EEOC said employers "may not discriminate in their health
insurance plan by denying benefits for prescription
contraceptives when they provide benefits for comparable drugs
While the ruling applies only to the two women who brought
the case, it may have much broader ramifications, motivating employers to
reconsider the coverage they offer.
More than three-quarters of health
maintenance organization plans cover birth control pills, but only 60 percent of
traditional plans do so. (The Post-Gazette health insurance
plan covers neither birth control pills nor Viagra).
One of the
arguments against paying for contraceptives is that the
insurance covers only prevention of "abnormal" conditions, but many of
those same plans pay for surgical sterilization or for Viagra without requiring
a diagnosis of impotence.
Employers also complain about the cost, but
the EEOC said cost considerations cannot be an excuse for discriminatory
treatment. And advocates for the coverage point out that a single pregnancy
costs more than years of contraception use.
Thirteen states have passed
laws requiring most insurance plans that pay for prescription
drugs to include contraceptive coverage. Pennsylvania is not
one of them.
Part of the resistance, beyond cost, is the religious
opposition of some who oppose contraceptive devices and
prescriptions. The Roman Catholic Church, among others, argues that no employer
or insurer should be required to provide such care.
They have a right to
their opinions and to lobby for their cause. But their views should not trump
the interests of millions of women who prefer to choose how many children to
have and when to have them.
The fact that health plans pay for Viagra
but don't pay for birth control pills is not the real issue; it is just a
symptom of the problem -- since reversible contraceptive
devices and pills are all prescribed for women, failing to cover those
treatments are, by definition, discriminatory.
LOAD-DATE: December 20, 2000