INSURANCE COVERAGE: Wilson May Veto Contraceptive Bill
"Renewed concerns about religious freedom could sink a bill on Gov. Pete Wilson's desk that would result in nearly all health plans paying for birth control pills and other contraceptive devices," the Sacramento Bee reports. The state Assembly approved a bill last week that would require employers to pay for contraceptive coverage through their health plans. According to sponsors of the bill, HMOs generally pay for the coverage, but "most individual insurers and alternate group policies do not." The omission of coverage can cost women about $300 per year, "even though they have health insurance covering many other types of obstetric care." The added coverage is estimated to cost "$16 per employee per year."
Wilson vetoed a similar bill in 1995 on the grounds that it could increase costs for small employers, so when Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) drafted the new bill, he took Wilson's concerns into account. However, Wilson is now "insisting on an amendment to give employers the ability to opt out if they objected to birth control on religious or moral grounds." Hertzberg refused to include the amendment. He said, "It would have cut the heart out of the bill. The language was to exempt all religious employers, which would include hospitals, universities and child-care centers. As many as nine million Californians would be affected." According to Hertzberg, a "conscience clause" would allow employers to "avoid providing health insurance plans that cover contraceptives when their real desire is to save money."
Some religious groups are arguing that the law would violate their religious freedom. Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said, "The point of this law is to force everyone to be morally complicit in something they may disagree with." Dolejsi sent a letter to Wilson last month, in which he wrote that if a conscience clause is included in the law, "Women would simply be able to choose a health plan or insurance program that included coverage for contraceptive devices." However, Kathy Kneer, CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said, "Allowing employers to superimpose their religious beliefs on employees' health benefit packages ... is very troubling and would set a dangerous precedent."
A Wilson spokesperson said that without the conscience clause amendment, it is likely that the governor will veto the bill. In the managed care reform proposal that Wilson unveiled last week, he "proposed that all people enrolled in group health policies should have contraceptive coverage." But he said that a "'conscience clause' should be included" (Bernstein, 2/4).