Pharmacy Must Provide Employees Contraceptive Coverage
In the first federal ruling of its kind, a judge ruled yesterday that Bartell Drug Co., a Seattle-based drugstore chain, must include contraceptives in its employee health plan, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. In the lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood of Western Washington on behalf of Bartell Pharmacy manager Jennifer Erickson last July, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that Bartell "discriminated" against its female employees by not offering contraceptives, a "'fundamental and immediate' medical need," under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to the Civil Rights Act. "Although the plan covers almost all drugs and devices used by men, the exclusion of prescription contraceptives creates a gaping hole in the coverage offered to female employees," Lasnik wrote in his summary judgement (Skolnik, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 6/13). "Male and female employees have different sex-based disability and health care needs, and the law is no longer blind to the fact that only women can get pregnant, bear children or use prescription contraception," he continued. The ruling follows a December Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling that found that employers who offer "preventive" health care coverage in the form of cholesterol or blood pressure drugs must also offer contraceptive coverage. Though that ruling had no binding authority beyond the company cited in the complaint ruled on by the EEOC, it serves as a "guide" for judges, the New York Times reports (Lewin, New York Times, 6/13).
Contraceptive coverage advocates hailed the decision, and Alina Salganicoff, Kaiser Family Foundation director for women's health policy, called it "one more step toward larger adoption of contraceptive coverage for women." However, Randy Johnson, vice president of labor and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called the ruling "just one more wrinkle, one more mandate now that employers have to follow when they voluntarily provide health care coverage for their employees ... that may drive employers away from voluntarily providing health care coverage for their employees" (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 6/13). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists "applaud[ed]" the ruling, saying, "It is time to stop dismissing or trivializing women's reproductive health needs as less important than services unique to men, or less important that services in other areas of health care. Control of reproduction is a fundamental health need. The exclusion of prescription contraception from insurance coverage not only discriminates against women, it reflects a deeply flawed and costly health policy" (ACOG statement, 6/12).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.