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Birth control coverage makes sense.

Byline: Kitty Piercy For The Register-Guard

Sometimes you just have to scratch your head about why such obviously good legislation as contraceptive equity has not become law in our state.

We were one of the first states in the country to propose legislation that would require insurance coverage for prescription birth control. Oregonians clearly understand this would be good for Oregon women and their families. Half the pregnancies in the United States are unintended. Contraception has a proven track record of preventing unintended pregnancies and reducing the need for abortion. This has all the makings of win-win legislation.

Yet for 10 years this legislation has not worked its way through the Oregon Legislature.

The votes have been there to pass the bill, and the public support of insurance coverage for contraception has been huge. In the six years I served in the Oregon House of Representatives, this legislation did not pass due to the double whammy of the insurance industry's "no mandates" policy combined with the conservative religious lobby.

So here we are in the 2003 session with Senate Bill 236, which would simply require insurance packages that cover prescriptions to include coverage for contraception. Nearly half of all health insurance plans provide no coverage for prescription birth control, even while covering medications such as Viagra. Women on average spend $573 of their own money each year on birth control. Sometimes the choice is between rent, food or birth control. If the word "discrimination" comes to your mind, you are not alone.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that employees who are denied insurance for birth control are being discriminated against on the basis of gender. In June 2001, a federal district court in Seattle ruled in the case of Erickson vs. Bartell Drug Company that an employers' exclusion of prescription birth control is a violation of federal law. Cases are pending before courts across this country (including in Oregon) based on this type of discrimination claim, and they are winning. It makes sense for Oregon to pass a law now requiring such coverage and to prohibit this kind of discrimination in our state.

This is not a radical idea. Since 1998, 20 states have passed laws and regulations to address coverage for birth control. The legislation comes from Republicans and Democrats, from fiscal conservatives, liberals and moderates - chiefly from women who clearly understand the impact of this discrimination in their lives.

Contraceptive coverage is cost effective, and everyone knows that saving dollars is at the top of Oregon's agenda in this time of budgetary crisis.

For every dollar spent on family planning, $3 to $4 are saved on pregnancy-related costs alone. That doesn't even include infant and child health care costs. Adding coverage to health plans minimally increases total health care costs by 0.6 percent.

And why do religious conservatives balk at this bill? Shouldn't we be working together to reduce unintended pregnancies? It would seem a logical high priority for anyone who wants to reduce the number of abortions to support SB 236.

Sometimes logic and good health policy have nothing to do with whether bills pass. This session, Sen. John Minnis has said that he and other conservatives are unlikely to support the bill unless the Senate also passes abortion access restrictions. If those who support a woman's right to choose are for contraceptive coverage and the prevention of unintended pregnancies, then Sen. Minnis and his ilk are against it.

That's too bad. We will eventually win the battle for contraceptive equity, but it would be nice if Oregon got on board now without expensive court procedures. It's about fairness and good health policy. A lot of women would be appreciative if SB 236 passed. Better late to the party than a no-show.

Kitty Piercy of Eugene, a former minority leader of the Oregon House of Representatives, is public affairs director of Planned Parenthood Health Services of Southwestern Oregon.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Apr 15, 2003
Words:654
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