EEOC Defines Contraception as ‘Preventive Treatment’
Employers who exclude coverage for contraceptives when they cover other "preventive treatments" in their health plans are in violation of federal law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled Wednesday. According to the AP/Arizona Daily Star, the EEOC stated that excluding contraceptives from employee health coverage violates the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires equal treatment for women "affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions" in all aspects of employment, including "fringe benefits." The commission also stated that omitting contraceptives such as birth control pills, diaphragms and other forms of prescription contraception "amounts to sex bias" because these prescriptions are available only to women. The decision was prompted by complaints from two women whose health plans covered a "wide range" of preventive services but did not cover contraception. The health plans and employers involved in the cases held that their plans covered only "abnormal conditions" and stated that the exclusion of contraceptives was not sex discrimination, but the EEOC rejected both of these claims. The EEOC decision is not universal, however, and only directly applies to the two women involved in the complaints. Because other health plans that do not cover preventive services "might not be in violation of the law," the EEOC decision does not set guidelines that would apply to all employers, the AP/Arizona Daily Star reports. However, the EEOC decision could be used by other women seeking contraceptive coverage, and could also provide "ammunition" for a lawsuit. The ruling marks the first time a federal agency or court has weighed in on whether contraceptive coverage should be required by law (Meckler, AP/Arizona Daily Star, 12/14).