ACLU Calls on Congress to Pass Equity in Prescription Coverage

June 10, 1999 12:00 am

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Thursday, June 10, 1999

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that would improve women’s access to basic health care by reducing a startling gender inequity in the coverage of prescription drugs under private health insurance policies.

Kathryn Engustian, a legislative counsel for the ACLU Washington National Office, called the legislation introduced today in the Senate by Senators Olympia Snow (R-ME) and Harry Reid (D-NV), and in the House by Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Jim Greenwood (R-PA), an important step toward protecting women’s health.

The bill, the Equity in Prescription and Contraceptive Coverage Act, or EPICC, would require insurance plans that routinely cover prescriptions and outpatient medical services to cover prescription contraceptives and related medical visits and exams.

Currently, many insurance policies exclude coverage of contraceptives.

Half of indemnity plans and Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) cover no method of reversible contraception, for example. While 97 percent of typical indemnity policies cover prescription drugs in general, only one-third cover oral contraceptives. Some plans do not cover such drugs even when used to treat health conditions.

“This lack of insurance coverage causes women to suffer unnecessary financial burdens and health risks,” Engustian said. “Women of reproductive age spend 68 percent more than men in out-of-pocket health care expenses, in large part due to the lack of health insurance plans that cover contraceptive supplies and services.”

“Lack of insurance coverage for contraception increases the likelihood that women will have an unintended pregnancy,” said Catherine Weiss, Director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “Studies show that planned pregnancy — possible only through access to contraception — greatly improves both maternal and child health.”

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