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Copyright 2000 Gannett Company, Inc.  

December 15, 2000, Friday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 452 words

HEADLINE: 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
pay for prescription contraceptives like the birth-control pill,
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says in a new ruling
widely hailed by women's groups.

The decision stems from complaints filed by two women against
their employers, but is likely to affect millions of workers.

To avoid violating the law, employers must cover expenses for
prescription contraceptives -- including the pill, injections
and items such as diaphragms or intra-uterine devices -- "to
the same extent, and on the same terms as they cover . . .
other drugs and devices," the EEOC said.
The issue has been controversial for years, particularly since
the advent of the impotence treatment Viagra. Women's groups complained
that some employers would pay for that drug -- which is mainly
prescribed for men -- but not contraceptives, which are prescribed
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 Women's
Law Center.

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 of health

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

Oral contraceptives cost about $ 350 a year. Health insurers charge
employers about $ 1.43 a month per employee for contraceptive coverage,
according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

In making its decision, the EEOC relied on Supreme Court rulings
and a 1978 law -- the Pregnancy Discrimination Act -- that prevents
employers from treating women differently from men because of
pregnancy 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.

The EEOC did not release the names of the women or their employers.

LOAD-DATE: December 15, 2000

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