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Copyright 1999 The Buffalo News  
The Buffalo News

December 11, 1999, Saturday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 750 words




Ten states passed contraceptive equity laws this year.
New York wasn't one of them.

Contraceptive equity legislation requires that health care insurance policies include contraception in any prescription drug coverage offered. For two years, legislators have rejected bills that would make that law in New York State.

Until very recently few individual or group health insurance plans that have prescription riders included the pill or contraceptive devices. That changed slightly after women expressed outrage over the speedy insertion of Viagra coverage into insurance plans that routinely exclude oral contraceptives, diaphragms, Norplant, cervical caps, Depo-Provera and intrauterine devices.

According to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), two-thirds of women of childbearing age rely on private or employer-provided health insurance. Among traditional health care plans only 15 percent cover all of the reversible contraceptive methods and fewer than half of them cover any.

Sterilization, however, is covered by 85 percent of large group plans, NARAL notes.

Health maintenance organizations are more likely to cover contraceptives (93 percent provide some coverage) but only 39 percent include all of the most commonly used methods in their coverage.

Gaps in coverage of contraception have been costly to women of reproductive age, who spend 68 percent more of their pocket money than men do in paying for prescription drugs. Women's Research and Education Institute says reproductive health care services account for much of that difference.

NARAL researches also think the coverage gap contributes to the rate of unintended pregnancies, regarded as high for a medically advanced country. Nearly 50 percent of pregnancies, including 31 percent of those among married women, are unintended. Fifty-four percent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion.

The federal government has mandated contraceptive coverage in health care plans covering its employees but Congress has yet to pass legislation requiring birth control coverage in individual and group plans providing prescription drug coverage in the private sector. The proposed federal legislation, the Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act, has been the model for state bills that have become law or are pending legislative action.

Seven of the 10 state laws passed this year to provide prescription equity contain loopholes exempting religious organizations from the mandate.

In each of the last two New York State legislative sessions six bills mandating contraceptive coverage in health care insurance plans were introduced. In both 1998 and 1999 two made it through the assembly but died in the Senate.

In addition to some religious bias against contraception, the bills face the insurance industry's challenge that birth control coverage is too expensive.

The Alan Guttmacher Institute calculated that covering the full range of contraceptives would add $ 1.43 per employee per month to the cost of a plan that does not cover any contraception now. It would be less for those already offering some coverage.

Proponents of prescription equity counter that not covering contraception is too expensive, citing the medical and sociological costs of unintended pregnancies.

Beleaguered Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman is one of four women to receive the 1999 Frontrunner awards given to women who are firsts in their fields. Herman, under investigation for alleged influence-peddling in incidents that occurred prior to her Cabinet appointment, is the first African-American to head the labor department. She designated the National Council of Negro Women to receive the $ 50,000 donation that the Sara Lee Foundation makes in the name of each winner.

Other winners are culinary artist Julia Child, University of Pennsylvania president Judith Rodin and Ann Fudge, executive vice president of Kraft Foods. Child chose the Julia Child Fund at the Boston Foundation for her award and Fudge picked Simmons College. The Women's Studies Program at Penn will benefit from Rodin's award.

AIDS Community Services is looking for volunteers to wrap gifts in the gift wrap booths at McKinley and Boulevard malls through Dec. 24. Proceeds from the booths will benefit the organization which provides support services for people with HIV and conducts community education and prevention programs. Call Eugene Abrahamson, 847-0340.


LOAD-DATE: December 12, 1999

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