Paying for the Pill: A Birth-Control Ruling Signals a Shift for Women

Article excerpt

Not every worker has the gumption to take her company to court over $15 a month. But when Jennifer Erickson first joined the Bartell Drug chain in Seattle as a pharmacist in 1999, she noticed the one prescription she required--for birth-control pills--wasn't covered by the company's health plan. Granted, it wasn't a lot of money. But it bothered 27-year-old Erickson that something she considered so basic to a woman's health was excluded from her insurance. There were daily reminders, too--as a pharmacist, she often had to explain to customers why their contraceptives weren't covered, either. When she asked Bartell to start paying for her pills, the company said no. So last summer she took Bartell to court. "It's never easy to sue the company you work for," says Erickson. "But I always knew there was something wrong."

Last week a federal judge sided with Erickson. The judge ruled that Bartell violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by covering basic health needs of male employees while requiring women to pay for birth control--"a gaping hole in the coverage,'' Judge Robert S. Lasnik called it. Bartell, a chain of 50 drugstores in Washington, says it never intended to discriminate, and that Erickson's request for coverage of birth control was the only one it received. It will now pay for prescription contraceptives.

The case has broad implications for corporate America. "This is a historic ruling that will hopefully bring contraception into the mainstream of American health insurance," says Roberta Riley, a lawyer with Planned Parenthood of Western Washington, who represented Erickson. …