Copyright 2000 Plain Dealer Publishing Co.
July 20, 2000 Thursday, FINAL / ALL
SECTION: NATIONAL; Pg. 11A
LENGTH: 477 words
LACK OF 'PILL' COVERAGE SPARKS CHARGE OF DISCRIMINATION
BYLINE: By TAMAR LEWIN; NEW YORK TIMES
In a case that could have
broad impact on contraceptive coverage nationwide, Planned
Parenthood filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday charging that a company whose
health insurance plan covers most prescription drugs, but excludes
contraceptives, is illegally discriminating against its female employees.
"It's sex discrimination when male employees get their basic health care
needs covered by insurance, but women are forced to pay for their own," said
Gloria Feldt, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president.
case, brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, was filed in federal
court in Seattle on behalf of Jennifer Erickson, a pharmacist at the Bartell
Drug Co., and all other female employees of the company, which operates 45
drugstores in Washington.
Erickson, who is 26, married and spends more
than $300 a year out of pocket on her contraception medication, said she had
become increasingly troubled by the inequity.
"Every single day, I'm
processing prescriptions and telling women that their pills aren't covered,"
said Erickson, who has worked at the drug chain for about 18 months. "Sometimes,
they walk away from the counter and say they can't afford it. It really makes
you sad, and then you realize your own company doesn't cover it either."
Last summer, Erickson said, she wrote to the human resources department
asking that contraceptive coverage be added to the company
policy, and was told that it was not something the company felt it should cover.
She got a similar response, she said, when she talked to her supervisor.
Mike McMurray, Bartell's vice president for marketing, said the company
had worked hard to provide the health benefits its employees consider most
valuable. "No medical benefits program covers every possible cost," he said,
going on to add that Bartell, for example, does not pay for infertility
treatment, Viagra or cosmetic surgery.
The issue of
contraceptive coverage has been a rallying point for women's
rights activists for several years - especially since many employers who do not
pay for contraception moved quickly to provide coverage for Viagra, which, at
nearly $10 a pill, is used to combat impotence.
While almost all
traditional plans provide coverage for some prescription drugs, only about half
cover any of the five contraceptive methods available by prescription - oral
contraceptive pills, the intrauterine device, Depo Provera, Norplant, and
diaphragm - all of them prescribed to women. And only about a third cover the
pill, which costs about a dollar a day. Even among HMOs, which offer the most
comprehensive coverage, only 39 percent cover all five methods, and 7 percent do
not cover the pill.
As a result, a study by the Alan Guttmacher
Institute found, women of reproductive age typically spend 68 percent more on
out-of-pocket health care than men.
LOAD-DATE: July 21, 2000