Copyright 2000 Gannett Company, Inc.
July 20, 2000, Thursday, FINAL EDITION
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 4A
LENGTH: 661 words
Lawsuit seeks coverage for birth control
WASHINGTON -- A Seattle
pharmacist filed a sex discrimination
lawsuit against her employer on
Wednesday to try to force the
company's health plan to pay for birth-control
pills, a move that
women's advocates cast as a potential watershed in the
push to have insurers cover contraceptives.
Parenthood Federation of America says it's the first time
that federal laws
banning sex discrimination in companies' policy
decisions have been used to
try to expand insurance coverage of
contraceptives. The group is
representing Jennifer Erickson, 26,
in her case against Bartell Drug, which
has 46 drug stores and
1,350 employees in Washington state.
successful, Erickson's suit could inspire similar legal efforts
companies with private health plans nationwide to pay
for five types of
prescription contraceptives, including the pill,
intrauterine devices and
Norplant, which is inserted under a woman's
comes four years after Planned Parenthood began pushing
for laws requiring
insurers to cover birth control.
New Hampshire, Georgia and Vermont
require health plans to provide
coverage. California, Connecticut, Hawaii,
Maine, Maryland, Nevada
and North Carolina require full coverage
but allow religious exemptions for
employers and insurers, regardless
of the views of employees or
policyholders, Planned Parenthood
legislation to require all health plans nationwide to
stalled in Congress, the federal discrimination
case represents a new avenue
"I think there are injustices in our society that are so
we don't even recognize them. Gender discrimination in health
care is one of them," Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt
"When birth control -- the pill -- first became available
(in 1960), there
was such a demand that women would have paid
any price to get it. And they
Oral contraceptives cost about $ 360 a year. About a
third of traditional
insurance plans with prescription coverage include
pills. Most health maintenance organizations cover
A study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute found that
coverage would cost employers about $ 21.40 per employee each
The suit, filed in Seattle, alleges that Bartell is violating
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by excluding prescription birth
control from its insurance coverage.
Title VII prohibits
employers with 15 or more employees from considering
sex or pregnancy when
making company policy.
"It's the first case ever making this claim,"
lawyer Eve Gartner says. "If we win, I see no reason why
wouldn't be replicated."
Bartell is self-insured and covers
other prescription drugs under
its employee health plan. Company officials
declined to comment
Erickson, who manages the
pharmacy at one of the company's suburban
Seattle stores, said that "I
always thought it was unfair" that
the company's plan does not cover
"There are cashiers here who make $ 8 an hour, so
more than $ 300
a year for birth control is a lot. That's the biggest
I see," she says.
Erickson said that as she has moved
to various jobs within the
Bartell chain, she noted the reactions from
female customers when
she told them their insurance plans did not cover
"They either pay for it reluctantly
or they walk away from the
counter without it," Erickson says.
The class-action lawsuit asks the court to order Bartell to cover
all birth-control methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Any ruling would apply only to Bartell's female employees and
spouses covered by the plan.
Gartner is hoping for a much
"If we win this case," she says, "every employer in
of Washington should be on notice."
GRAPHIC: PHOTO, B/W, Elaine Thompson, AP; Erickson:
"It's a basic health care need."
LOAD-DATE: July 21, 2000