Bush Budget Cuts Required FEHBP Contraceptive Coverage
In his budget sent to Capitol Hill this week, President Bush has proposed eliminating a requirement that federal employees' health insurance cover a broad range of contraceptives, a move that "sends a message of support to social conservative groups that do not believe that the federal government should be in the business of making contraceptives available to all," the Washington Post reports. The proposal would overturn the 1998 amendment to the 1999 Treasury Postal Appropriations Bill that mandated wide birth control coverage for 1.2 million female employees and their dependents served by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP). Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), author of the 1998 benefit provision, said she was "shocked and disappointed" by Bush's move to dismiss it (Nakashima, Washington Post, 4/12). "To reduce the number of abortions in this country, we must support better access to contraception -- which is the proven way to reduce unintended pregnancies," Lowey said (Holland, Albany Times Union, 4/12). Lowey and Republican legislators, including Sen. Olympia Snowe(R-Maine), say they will fight to maintain the provision, which requires health plans to cover five types of FDA-approved birth control: oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, Norplant, Depo-Provera and diaphragms. Previously, some insurers would pay only for one type of contraception. Lowey's amendment included a "conscience clause" exemption for health plans operated by organizations that hold that birth control coverage violates their religious or moral beliefs. According to the Office of Personnel Management, which administers the FEHBP, the 1998 mandate has not created additional costs and did not impose a differential premium on women. An OPM official said that if the Bush-proposed budget passes, most female federal employees would still be covered for at least one form of birth control. The official added, "I have every reason to believe that contraceptive coverage will still be widely available in the [FEHBP]. I don't think (the proposal) will change the landscape that much" (Washington Post, 4/12). Congress may decide to keep Lowey's amendment despite Bush's stance, although "the GOP-led House and Senate have worked hard to keep much of the president's agenda intact" (AP/Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/12).
Workers unions and women's groups were "upset" by the proposed elimination, the Washington Post reports. American Federation of Government Employees Director of the Women's and Fair Practices Department Andrea Brooks called the proposal "extremely discriminatory," and National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League President Kate Michelman said it represented "simply another manifestation of President Bush's hostility to the reproductive rights of women" (Washington Post, 4/12). Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the proposal was "a blatant attempt to deny women equitable treatment" (Carter, AP/Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/12). Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) added, "Americans overwhelmingly support contraceptive equity, so we were dismayed to learn that the president's budget proposes to take away this important benefit from federal employees, placing them at higher risk of unintended pregnancy and abortion."
But social conservatives "cheered" the decision. Susan Orr, senior director for marriage and families at the Family Research Council, said, "We're quite pleased because fertility is not a disease. It's not a medical necessity that you have it" (Washington Post, 4/12). American Life League spokesperson Ed Szymkowiak said his organization does not believe taxpayers should be forced to subsidize birth control for anyone because "many of these contraceptive chemicals and devices sometimes act to kill a human person before he or she can implant in his or her mother's womb" (Albany Times Union, 4/12). But Concerned Women for America spokesperson Michael Schwartz said, "It's one thing to put an item in the budget, and another thing to see it passed" (Washington Post, 4/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.