Copyright 1999 The Buffalo News
The Buffalo News
December 11, 1999, Saturday, FINAL EDITION
SECTION: LIFESTYLES, Pg. 7C
LENGTH: 750 words
STATE CONTINUES TO LAG IN COVERAGE FOR CONTRACEPTIVES
BYLINE: PAT SWIFT
Ten states passed contraceptive equity laws this year.
New York wasn't one of them.
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.
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
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
In addition to some religious bias against contraception,
the bills face the insurance industry's challenge that birth control coverage is
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.
December 12, 1999