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Copyright 2000 The Buffalo News  
The Buffalo News

December 19, 2000, Tuesday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 379 words



Employers who do not yet provide coverage for prescription contraceptives should heed the recent ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission found that it is discriminatory for an employer's health plan to exclude contraceptives if prescription drugs and preventive care are otherwise covered. And it constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The commission's decision is a response to charges filed with the agency by two nurses who claim that the company that employs them is engaging in an unlawful employment practice because of its failure to cover prescription contraceptives when it covers other prescription drugs.

The commission made its ruling based on the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which forbids workplace discrimination against women because of pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. It's an interpretation the courts should weigh as heavily as did the commission. The effect of this is to put all employers who have the same kind of exclusion on notice that they're violating Title VII. And while it's difficult to know what motivates employers to exclude contraceptive coverage, it's possible they may not have considered that this is a form of gender discrimination.

The exclusion of contraceptives in health plans is discriminatory on the basis of pregnancy, and contraception is aimed at preventing pregnancy and thereby covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, said Judy Appelbaum, a vice president at the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C.

Surveys of health plans a few years ago found that it was common for large group-health plans to exclude contraception, Appelbaum added. That, combined with the outcry when Viagra was approved and covered by employers that exclude women's contraceptives, caused the issue to come to the fore.

The law center also is advocating new state and federal legislation to require all insurers to cover prescription contraceptives in plans that cover other prescription drugs.

This is a victory for all women who deserve better access through insurance coverage. And it's a wake-up call for employers who don't offer this coverage that they may be discriminating against their female employees.

LOAD-DATE: December 21, 2000

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