As union activists, we have the ability to make sure that union women (and the wives of male union members) have the best health benefits possible, including comprehensive contraceptive coverage.
CLUW established the Contraceptive Equity Project in the Spring of 2001 to inform union members and all working women about legal, medical, political and collective bargaining issues related to gaining contraceptive coverage in health insurance plans. Right now, women pay on average 68 percent more out of pocket for health care expenses than men—largely as a result of having to pay for contraception.
What is Contraceptive Equity?
Contraceptive equity means simple fairness. If a health plan covers prescription drugs and devices, it has to cover contraception too. In 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that employers may not discriminate against women in their health insurance plans by denying benefits for prescription contraceptives, if they provide benefits for drugs, devices and services used to prevent other medical conditions.
2010: Guaranteeing Contraceptive Coverage In All New Health Insurance Plans
CLUW is pleased to link to the National Women's Law Center's material on Guaranteeing Contraceptive Coverage In All New Health Insurance Plans. CLUW works closely with the National Women's Law Center on a number of issues. CLUW and the NWLC are both members of the National Council of Women's Organizations.
Under the new health care law that went into effect in September 2010, all new health insurance plans are required to cover certain preventive health care services, including mammograms, smoking cessation treatment, and folic acid, among others, and provide them to patients at no cost.
The law also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to identify additional preventive health services for women that should be covered and provided to patients at no cost. The Department has asked the Institute of Medicine, an organization that provides authoritative, unbiased advice to decision makers on health and medical issues, to review the available evidence and recommend the additional preventive health services for women that should be included.
Contraception is critical preventive health care for women and should be covered as part of a woman’s preventive health benefits.
Contraceptive Equity 2012: Who Would Have Thought We Would Still Be Fighting This Fight?
CLUW’s Contraceptive Equity Project was created in 2001 to make sure that unions knew they had a right to demand contraceptive coverage in their health plans if the plan covered other preventive drugs and devices. When it shut its doors in early 2004, the project had succeeded in assisting millions of union families secure contraceptive equity in their health plans. Even one union with a 94 percent male membership, the Masters, Mates and Pilots Union, realized that this was a “family issue” and successfully secured coverage.
A study released in June 2004, by the well-respected Guttmacher Institute, noted that the contraceptive equity campaign had “come a long way on getting insurance plans to cover contraception.” However, it also noted that "too little information was available from employers who self-insure – typically large companies – to be meaningful. About half of all employee benefit plans are administered by the companies themselves and are not subject to the state coverage mandates."
As many union health plans fall into this category, on this page, CLUW continued to urge union women to check to see if their plans covered contraception… and if the plan didn’t, CLUW asked them to urge their respective union to pursue the issue… reminding them that “the union can threaten the employer with a law suit under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”
Fast forward to 2012: Thanks to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D. MD), the Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes a provision ensuring preventive health care for women in new plans, starting in 2014. On Jan. 20, 2012, the Obama Administration announced the finalized guidelines under ACA for contraceptive coverage by insurance plans. The guidelines would guarantee all new insurance plans will cover preventive services, as identified by HHS, with no co-pay. HHS stood by its interim decision last summer saying it would issue a final rule requiring that women receive the full spectrum of FDA-approved contraceptives without co-pays, and also retained an exemption for certain religious employers.
Women's groups and other progressive organizations celebrated the decision. Immediately, however, the backlash started: The Conference of Catholic Bishops started a push to deny workers in Catholic hospitals, social service agencies, etc. the right to birth control devices and contraceptives. Coincidently polls released the same week as the decision indicated that a majority of Catholics believe that employers should provide health care plans that cover contraception.
President Obama announced an “accommodation” February 10, 2012 in which insurance companies rather than religious institutions will pay for employees’ contraceptive coverage.
On March 1 the Senate voted 51-48 to table the Blunt Amendment. Had it passed it would have permitted any employer to deny health coverage (such as mammography) to employees based on the employer’s moral objection.
In pitching the battle to its lowest point, Sandra Fluke, the student who testified before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee after House Republicans refused to let her testify, has been subjected to vicious and inappropriate attacks.
But the attacks on women’s health are not going to stop. Republicans in the House of Representatives are considering legislation similar to the Blunt Amendment, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops have vowed to continue their campaign against birth control coverage
For more information on the Affordable Care Act as it relates to women, see the Women’s Health Task Force, which is maintained by the National Council of Women’s Organizations (CLUW is an affiliate).
CLUW's Carolyn Jacobson writes in Labor Notes how some organizations are mobilizing against the Catholic bishops' campaign to get religious-affiliated institutions exempted from providing contraceptive coverage:
Press Associates, Inc. (PAI) – 3/16/2012
IN WAKE OF CONTROVERSY, FED DEFENDS WOMEN’S EQUAL ACCESS TO CONTRACEPTION
ORLANDO, Fla. (PAI)--In the wake of a Republican-induced controversy over contraceptive rights and health care, the AFL-CIO has stepped forward to defend women’s equal access to contraception “regardless of where they work.”
The statement, pushed by the Coalition of Labor Union Women, adds that “denial of contraceptive coverage is seen as discrimination against women and an attack on workers’ right to basic health coverage” under the new health care law.
The federation waded into the contraceptive rights controversy, for the first time ever, after a furor erupted over an Obama administration decision that institutions – though not churches – run by religious organizations must nonetheless provide contraceptive coverage to women through the institutions’ health care plans.
Complaints, mostly from the GOP and the Roman Catholic Church, arose that the regulation, part of a set of federal rules making contraceptive coverage part of basic health care under the new law, would force institutions to provide the coverage even when it goes against their religious principles.
To solve that, the administration said the institutions’ insurers – not the protesting institutions, such as hospitals and schools -- must pay for contraceptive coverage for their female workers. That set off another GOP-inspired political brouhaha.
CLUW President Karen See, who helped draft the AFL-CIO statement as a member of its committee on women workers, said, “The labor movement’s support of contraceptive access is the right thing to do, particularly at a time when working women are under assault and the women’s vote will be a determining factor in this election.”
And AFL-CIO Executive Council member Nancy Wohlforth, retired Secretary-Treasurer of the Office and Professional Employees and co-founder of Pride at Work, added, “The American labor movement took a principled stand on reproductive rights. The Republicans will continue to use this issue to push their right wing agenda through November.” The fed’s March 14 statement came to the defense of women workers.
“The right to quality health care has deteriorated into an attack on the character of the women who want nothing more than to have a personal decision in the matter,” the fed statement said. “Contraception is not only important in helping women and men plan their families, it is also used to treat or prevent many health conditions that affect women, including reducing their risk of developing ovarian and endometrial cancers. All women should have access to quality health care at a reasonable cost that is not determined by political agendas.”