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Contraceptive Equity Fact Sheet
Print Icon Jun 17, 2012

Q: What is Contraceptive Equity?  

A: 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. This decision was reinforced by a federal court decision, Erickson v. The Bartell Company, in June 2001.

Q: What prompted the EEOC's ruling?

A: The EEOC decision was issued in response to complaints filed by two women who claimed that their employers discriminated against them by not providing health insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives. The EEOC held that these plans discriminated on the basis of sex and pregnancy, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Even though this decision applies only to the women who filed these specific cases, courts are likely to will follow the commission's ruling in future contraceptive coverage cases.

Q: Must employers now cover prescription contraceptives?

A: Yes. According to this EEOC decision:

Employers must cover the expenses of prescription contraceptives to the same extent, and on the same terms, that they cover other drugs, devices and preventive care. Comparable drugs, devices and services can include:

  • Vaccinations
  • Drugs to prevent the development of other medical conditions, such as those to lower blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Weight loss drugs
  • Preventive physical examinations, including lab services and routine pap smears
  • Preventive dental care

Employers must offer the same coverage for contraception-related outpatient services (such as insertion of devices) as are offered for other outpatient services.

When a woman visits her doctor to obtain a prescription for contraceptives, she must be given the same coverage for the office visit as she would have had if she consulted the doctor for other preventive or health maintenance services.

Employers must offer the above coverage in all of their health plans that offer comparable preventive drugs, devices and services.

However, if an employer limits coverage of comparable drugs or services (e.g. by imposing maximum payable benefits) those limits may also be applied to contraception.

Q: What types of prescription contraceptives should be covered?

A: All types of reversible prescription contraceptives available in the United States should be covered, including birth control pills, IUD's, diaphragms, implants and injections.

Birth control pill should be covered, whether they are prescribed for birth control purposes or for other medical conditions, such as irregular menstrual periods or menstrual cramps.

Q: What can a union do to secure contraceptive equity?

A:

  • Find out whether prescription contraceptives are covered by your employers' health plans. If not, take action!
  • Assert your right to contraceptive equity.
  • Let your employer know that they're vulnerable to a lawsuit, if they don't offer full coverage
  • Know the facts about the low cost of coverage:

One study found that the cost of adding contraceptive coverage to health plans is estimated to cost less than $2 per month, per enrollee. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management reported that the federal government added contraceptive coverage at no increased cost.  Adding contraceptive coverage indirectly reduces labor costs by reducing absenteeism.  The Washington Business Group has said that "not providing contraceptive coverage may in fact cost an employer 15%-17% more than providing coverage."

For more information on the EEOC decision, you can access the full text of the decision and explanatory Q&A on the EEOC's web site: www.eeoc.gov/docs/decision-contraception.html

For additional information or a text copy of the CLUW Contraceptive Equity Project Kit, contact: Carolyn J. Jacobson, Contraceptive Equity Project Director, 202.508.6901, or via E-mail:  cjacobson@cluw.org.

Adapted from the original produced by the Women's Rights Department of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).


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