CONTRACEPTIVE COVERAGE: Negotiations Deadlocked
After a "long session" Monday evening, House and Senate conferees "gave up" trying to hash out an agreement on a provision in the Treasury-Postal appropriations bill that would require health plans serving federal employees to cover prescription contraceptives. Pro-life activists, who argue that "some contraceptives are in fact 'abortifacients' ... are trying to get the conference committee to kill the measure rather than resolve the minor differences between the House and Senate bills," the Boston Globe reports. "The fear among backers of the contraceptive-coverage measure is that the conferees will give up and let GOP leaders ... decide the contents and status of the Treasury-Postal bill, which is their prerogative at the 11th hour," the Globe reports.
Under Cover Of Darkness?
Last week, conservative House and Senate Republicans sent letters to their respective conferees charging that several contraceptives covered under the measure are abortifacients because they prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg (see Kaiser Daily Reproductive Report, 9/24). The Globe reports that the letters "signal[ed] that some members are concerned about a backlash from their conservative constituencies but didn't want to go on record with what might have been reported as an anti-women vote." Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), cosponsor of the Senate version, said of the pro-life efforts, "I don't know where this is coming from, but I think it should have been done in the daylight, not in letters to the leadership." Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) said, "This is absolutely extraordinary. We're talking about basic health care coverage for women, we're talking about a measure that passed both houses. Yet the Republican leadership is going to great lengths to strip out this amendment" (Leonard, Boston Globe, 9/30).
Dollars And Sense
In a Roll Call op-ed Monday, Reid and cosponsor Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) wrote: "From an economic standpoint, the failure of insurers to cover prescription contraceptives makes no sense, when 86% of large group plans already cover tubal ligations (sterilizations) and 66% cover abortions. Both of these surgical procedures are more expensive than a full year's supply of oral contraceptives, and what kind of perverse incentive is sent when insurers make it more affordable for women to choose permanent sterilization or abortion over contraceptives?" They concluded, "The solution is clear: The time has come to eliminate the disparity between coverage of prescription contraceptives and other prescription drugs" (Roll Call, 9/28).