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Should Employers Cover the Cost of Birth Control Pills?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled last week that employers cannot discriminate against women when it comes to contraceptives and health coverage. Women's rights groups say the ruling is a victory for women because it ends sex discrimination in health coverage. But businesses say it's a bad move because it leads to more lawsuits and higher insurance costs.

Gloria Feldt, the President of Planned Parenthood is New York is here to talk to us about the EEOC ruling. Kate Sullivan, the Director of Health Care Policy for the US Chamber of Commerce is also here to present the other side of issues.

Last Wednesday, the EEOC ruled that employers "may not discriminate in their health insurance plan by denying benefits for prescription contraceptives when they provide benefits for comparable drugs and devices."


Both Planned Parenthood and the National Women's Law Center were ecstatic about the ruling. Now women can actually go to their employer and ask that their prescription pill be covered by insurance. If the company refuses, they can file a complaint with the EEOC. If the company still refuses, they have the choice of taking the employer to court. Women pay approximately $68 more for out-of-pocket health expenses than men. They say it is nothing short of sex discrimination when women are denied coverage for the pill, even though it's a basic need.

While the ruling only applies to the two women whose complaints it heard, it provides guidance to employers on the EEOC's views on the reach of the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which forbids workplace discrimination against women because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. Planned Parenthood says when Viagra first came out, many companies were quick to cover this impotence pill for men, even though many of the same companies still refused to cover the cost of contraceptives for women. Plus, companies would have to pay a lot more for the cost of a pregnancy than they would for covering the pill. So they are willing to pay for a woman to have a baby, but not willing to pay for a woman's choice to control if or when she wants to have a baby. Also, cost is not a good defense against sex discrimination. Every form of medicine costs something, so why deny this one cost that's specific to women?


The US Chamber of Commerce says this ruling is another mandate that is bad for business. They say employers already voluntarily offer health care benefits to 172 million workers, retirees, and their families. And, many companies already voluntarily cover prescription contraceptives. But if companies are mandated to provide for the cost of contraceptives, it makes health care coverage more expensive as a whole. When cost goes up, fewer people will be able to afford health care coverage. Right now we have millions of people who are uninsured, and they will stay uninsured if they can't afford to buy health coverae through their employers. So it's a detriment to the workforce as a whole. Also, this ruling will allow women to sue their employers if they don't provide coverage for prescription contraceptives. If employers start getting sued, they may not think providing coverage is worth the risk, and may not offer coverage any more. All in all, it's just another form of government intervention that's detrimental to business and detrimental to the work force. Insurance groups also oppose the addition of mandated benefits.

Interview with Gloria Feldt of Planned Parenthood

Why is this ruling a good thing for women?

It's a great thing because throughout the 40-year history of birth control, women have been denied coverage. Right now, only half of indemnity plans cover oral contraceptives. Women pay $68 more for out of pocket health care costs than men do. This is imply about justice and equity.

Why should employers cover every single thing?

This is not every single thing. There are wide ranges of things that are not covered. But this is one of the most frequently used birth control methods for timing and controlling their pregnancies. This should be covered because it's as basic as physical exams and vaccinations. Those are preventive means to stay healthy. This is a preventive means for unintended pregnancies, so it actually cuts back abortions.

Why do you call this sex discrimination if businesses just can't afford to provide this coverage?

Because this is a necessity for women. Millions of women use contraceptives for birth control, not men. A couple of years ago, when Viagra came out, most employers covered it. But for years we've been saying cover birth control and they won't.

Won't this open up businesses for lawsuits?

If it's going to lead to many lawsuits, doesn't that mean that it's a big deal for women that it's a big injustice? That something's wrong? Also, this is actually good for business because half of the people in the workforce are women so it's better for their morale.

Won't this be too costly for businesses, running them into the ground?

Actually, the cost is quite minimal. It's about $25 a year per employee. But cost is not a good reason to discriminate. Every prescription pill costs money. So why should this one be denied? Also, in the end, this costs less than a pregnancy.

How about the argument that we should let businesses do this voluntarily?

We are letting them do it voluntarily and 1/2 of women is still not getting contraception covered. This is a public health issue since millions of women are affected.

Interview with Kate Sullivan of US Chamber of Commerce

Why is the Chamber of Commerce opposed to the commission's ruling?

We'rnot criticizing the merit of the ruling itself but the fact that it is another mandate, in addition to so many other government mandates, which hurts employers. It injects the government into business. And most businesses already voluntarily provide health coverage.

How does this hurt the employer?

It opens the door up for more lawsuits against employers. If women turn to lawsuits, and these companies can't afford to pay such a high price when they're trying to do the right thing, many of them may choose not to provide health care coverage at all. They just won't volunteer to give employees any healthcare. Many of them won't be able to afford to pay these high premiums and these lawsuits.

How does this hurt the workforce?

The fact is, we should be focusing on the millions who are uninsured instead of getting more insurance coverage for those who already have it. The more employers have to pay for insurance premiums, the less they'll be able to provide affordable health coverage for the rest of their employees. If co-payment goes up, monthly premiums go up, and people just can't afford that.

But why give employers the leeway to not provide coverage?

Employers right now are throwing their hands up in the air saying hey, we provide a lot of coverage. This should be between the employer and the employee, not between the employer and the government. This ruling is shortsighted.

What's the worst-case scenario here for business with this ruling?

What could happen is that employers only start to offer coverage for big-ticket items like emergency room visits. People will have to go back to paying for smaller, daily, routine bills on their own.

How much does it cost now for employers to provide health care coverage?

The average cost for employees is $5300/year. And the cost has gone up 30% for small businesses in the last year.

How about the argument that this is cheaper than paying for a pregnancy?

But if the employer doesn't pay or birth control, it doesn't mean that all these women are going to go out and get pregnant. It just means women have to take personal responsibility.

What about the argument that many of these plans cover men's needs so why shouldn't they cover women's needs?

No plan covers ALL of men's needs. That's simply not true.

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