ACLU Urges Congress to Support Bill Guaranteeing Equal and Fair Access to Prescription Coverage for Women

September 10, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union urged Congress today to support long overdue legislation guaranteeing women equal access to prescription drug coverage under private health care policies.

“Not only does contraceptive coverage makes public health sense,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “But the legislation will give women greater choice in controlling the timing of their pregnancies. Increasing access to birth control reduces the need for abortion and reduces the number of unwanted children.”

The legislation, Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act, S. 104, will be considered at a hearing on contraceptive equity to be held today by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

The hearing will feature Jennifer Erickson, who successfully sued her employer, Bartell Drug Company, for its failure to cover contraceptive services in its employee health plan, which covered other prescription drugs and devices. A federal court ruled in June that this inequity constituted impermissible sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

“Jennifer Erickson was courageous enough to sue to validate her rights,” Murphy said. “Congress should act now to ensure that the federal government mandates non-discrimination so that no woman has to sue her insurance company in order to receive a basic health care benefit.”

The legislation – which has been introduced by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Harry Reid (D-NV) – would require insurance plans that routinely cover prescriptions and outpatient medical services to cover prescription contraceptives and related medical visits and exams.

It is designed to address what many have called the “Insurance Gender Gap.” Currently women are forced to bear a heavier financial burden for health care than men primarily because many of their health care insurance providers refuse to cover contraceptives. Studies have shown that women of reproductive age often pay 68 percent more in out-of-pocket expense for health care in large part because of bans on contraceptive coverage.

“The time is ripe for Congress to pass EPICC and take a significant step in addressing a fundamental injustice in the availability of health care in America,” Murphy said. “This bill is not just about fiscal equality, it’s about equality for women.”

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