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Copyright 1999 The Denver Post Corporation  
The Denver Post

July 3, 1999 Saturday 2D EDITION


LENGTH: 523 words

HEADLINE: Blue pill a boon to both sexes

BYLINE: By Diane Carman

   I know, I know, it's hard to believe. But face it, erectile dysfunction is the best thing to happen to women's reproductive health care since the invention of the birth control pill.

Even before Bob Dole began pitching Viagra on national TV, men across the country were clamoring for the little blue pills.

The anti-impotence drug has been the pharmaceutical sensation of the last two years.

So it was no surprise when health care insurers, eager to keep their participating CEOs happy, began offering coverage for the pills, which cost up to $ 10 apiece.

Sure, nobody ever died of impotence, but that doesn't mean it's an insignificant problem. Just ask Dole.

Covering the cost of Viagra is the right thing to do.

But that decision laid bare some patently unfair policies. The good ol' boy insurers got caught with their hypocrisy showing.

For more than 25 years, a majority of the health care goons across the country have steadfastly refused to pay for contraceptives for women.

For 66 percent of health care insurance plans nationwide, that coverage was deemed "too expensive."

Oral contraceptives cost about $ 20 a month, and prices vary for alternatives such as IUDs, diaphragms, Depo Provera and other methods.

Viagra, in contrast, was considered a bargain at any price.

The inequity of those policies really should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, these are the same folks who 20-some years ago had to be forced by legislative action to cover the costs of pregnancy and childbirth.

Before then, maternity care was considered a non-essential medical procedure.

The personal and social consequences of denying coverage of contraceptives are far from inconsequential. An estimated 50 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, and half of those unplanned pregnancies end in abortion.

In Colorado, legislators have been curiously silent on this issue.

A study done by Planned Parenthood in December 1997 found that 28 percent of the state's largest employers did not provide coverage for the most common forms of contraception, and, given the cost, it's fair to assume that small businesses would be even less likely to provide that coverage.

Elsewhere the "contraceptive equity" campaign has stormed several state legislatures.

From Vermont to Hawaii, strange bedfellows from both parties have joined forces to get measures passed before the unfair situation completely alienates women voters.

In the U.S. Congress, the "Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act," sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, died of neglect in the last session.

But as the election season looms larger, the issue is expected to get more attention. Snowe reintroduced the bill last month.

When it finally passes and insurers are required to provide coverage for something that is an essential, expensive, everyday fact of life for millions of women, we'll know that it was not justice that was on the lawmakers' minds when they voted for it.

The Viagra made them do it.

Diane Carman's commentaries appear here Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.  E-mail:

LOAD-DATE: July 06, 1999

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