Copyright 2000 Gannett Company, Inc.
December 15, 2000, Friday, FINAL EDITION
SECTION: MONEY; Pg. 1B
LENGTH: 452 words
Employer health plans must cover cost of contraceptives Women's
organizations applaud EEOC ruling, which applies to prescriptions
BYLINE: Julie Appleby
Employer health plans that cover preventive treatments must also
prescription contraceptives like the birth-control pill,
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says in a new ruling
hailed by women's groups.
The decision stems from complaints filed
by two women against
their employers, but is likely to affect millions of
To avoid violating the law, employers must cover expenses
prescription contraceptives -- including the pill,
and items such as diaphragms or intra-uterine devices -- "to
the same extent, and on the same terms as they cover . . .
and devices," the EEOC said.
The issue has been controversial for years,
the advent of the impotence treatment Viagra. Women's
that some employers would pay for that drug -- which is
prescribed for men -- but not contraceptives, which
only for women.
"There are a lot of employers who
haven't focused on the fact
that this is sex discrimination. Now they're on
notice that it
is," says Judy Appelbaum, vice president at the National
Coverage for contraceptives
varies. About 87% of employers offering
HMO plans include coverage of the
birth-control pill, according
to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But the percentage
drops to as low as 60% among firms offering other types
Far fewer offer coverage
for other types of prescription contraceptives.
Some employers fear the EEOC ruling will raise the cost of health
"It's another mandate that will
drive up costs," says John Emling
of the National Federation of Independent
Business, an advocacy
contraceptives cost about $ 350 a year. Health insurers charge
employers about $ 1.43 a month per employee for
according to the Alan Guttmacher
In making its decision, the EEOC relied on Supreme Court
and a 1978 law -- the Pregnancy Discrimination Act -- that prevents
employers from treating women differently from men because of
or the possibility they might become pregnant.
Employers' refusal to
pay for contraceptives is discriminatory,
said the EEOC,
because only women are prescribed contraceptives.
The ruling could also bolster the federal court case of Jennifer
Erickson, who filed a lawsuit in July against her employer, Bartell
Drug, in federal court in Seattle.
She accused the company of
sex discrimination for not including
contraceptives in its
health plan. She is seeking class-action
status on the case.
EEOC did not release the names of the women or their employers.
LOAD-DATE: December 15, 2000