The EPICC Quest for Prescription Contraceptive Insurance Coverage

By Vargas, Christine | American Journal of Law & Medicine, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

The EPICC Quest for Prescription Contraceptive Insurance Coverage


Vargas, Christine, American Journal of Law & Medicine


I. INTRODUCTION

A. BACKGROUND

On the October 18, 2001 episode of The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn, the show's host announced that a woman in Georgia had sued her employer, WalMart, for not covering her contraceptives under its health insurance plan.1 He then cracked, "Hey, isn't working at WalMart all the birth control you need?"2 Kilborn's crude joke met with howls of laughter from the audience, but it likely struck a raw nerve with the millions of American women who do not have access to health insurance plans that cover birth control, and the many men and women who are battling to ensure that all women ultimately obtain such coverage.3

WalMart is one of hundreds of employers in the United States that do not cover any of the five most common forms of birth control4 that were created exclusively for women.5 In fact, half of the large health insurance plans in America do not cover any form of contraception.6 Some of these plans do, however, cover Viagra, a drug used to treat male impotence.7 Insurance coverage of Viagra for men by plans that do not cover contraceptives for women has provoked a great deal of controversy,8 with some critics claiming that it constitutes sex discrimination.9 Many of these plans also cover birth control and birth-related procedures that are far more costly than the coverage of contraceptives. For instance, eighty-six percent of health plans cover tubal ligation, nearly 100 percent cover maternity care and two-thirds cover certain abortion services.10 Only fifteen percent cover all five of the most common forms of birth control.11 As a result, women pay what many call a gender tax,12 which results in women paying sixty-eight percent more out-of-pocket for prescription drugs than men. 13

Recognizing the need for broadened access to contraceptives, state legislatures and federal courts have made some progress in mandating coverage of the FDA-- approved forms of birth control. Twenty states have enacted legislation that compels insurance plans that cover prescription drugs to cover prescription contraceptives. 14 Further, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that employers that exclude contraceptive coverage from health insurance plans covering other preventative medicine or services engage in sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 15

In spite of these efforts, many women do not yet benefit from insurance coverage for their contraceptives. The women who either have to pay for contraceptives out-of-pocket or go without include those who live in the thirty states without equity in contraceptive coverage laws. 16 Also included are the women whose employers have fewer than fifteen employees, 17 and those whose employers have self-funded insurance plans since the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 18 (ERISA) preempts state laws that relate to employee benefit plans.19

The Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act (EPICC), as proposed in the U.S. Congress,20 seeks to broaden access to birth control. The law would mandate that all plans that offer coverage of prescription drugs also cover all FDA-approved forms of birth control.21

This Note will explain why broad-based, federal legislation mandating contraceptive coverage is crucial, and make recommendations for the improvement of EPICC. Part I will examine current legislative, judicial and administrative efforts aimed at increasing access to insurance coverage of contraceptives. It will also demonstrate that in spite of these efforts, many women still go without insurance coverage for this staple of female health. Part II will analyze EPICC, as well as conscience clauses. Conscience clauses allow religious institutions fundamentally opposed to contraception to opt out of compliance with contraceptive coverage mandates. Although conscience clauses appear in the vast majority of state statutes, a conscience clause is conspicuously missing from EPICC, and this may impede its passage. …

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