Walker’s plan to change contraceptive coverage rule met with praise, suspicion and indifference

Anti-abortion advocates applaud Gov. Scott Walker’s budget provision that would allow insurance companies to again choose whether to cover birth control. But industry officials say it’s unlikely many plans would drop contraceptive coverage.

Phil Dougherty, senior executive officer at the Wisconsin Association of Health Plans, said most of the insurance plans in Wisconsin offered coverage prior to the mandate.

“There may be some plan providers out there that said, ‘I’d really like to not have that coverage,’ but I think most insurance policies on the market (will have it) available,” he said.

Walker’s argument for the change as written in his proposed budget is that the 2009 rule puts an unacceptable burden on employers and drives up the cost of health insurance. A spokesman for the governor, Cullen Werwie, could not provide a figure showing the impact on insurance costs.

According to a National Business Group on Health 2006 report, the average cost of adding contraception coverage for an employer is about $25 per worker each year. The cost of birth control without any insurance assistance is $15 to $50 a month, according to Planned Parenthood.

Matt Sande, legislative director for Pro-Life Wisconsin, which supports the repeal, said any additional coverage drives premiums upward.

“People who might not necessarily use the service have to pay for the service with their medical coverage,” Sande said.

Others argue the long-term savings far outweigh any monthly premium increase. According to the National Business Group on Health, employers can save up to $14,000 every five years by providing the coverage.

Alina Salganicoff, director of women’s health policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said birth control prevents unintended pregnancies, which are at higher risk for complications that can cost a company money.

“There are tradeoffs there,” she said.

However, repealing the mandate would allow employers to shop for plans that don’t cover birth control. Sande said that freedom allows any organization with moral or religious reasons for opposing birth control to find coverage that fits its belief system.

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“What we’re saying is it was wrong for the government to force (anyone against birth control) into the position to potentially violate their conscience,” Sande said.

Under federal law, self-insured companies are not subjected to state insurance mandates, meaning the change won’t affect them in any way, Dougherty said.

Under current law, any company that drops contraceptive coverage for employees also faces the risk of discrimination lawsuits.

In 2006, an administrative law judge found that Marathon County discriminated against three employees when it deemed prescription contraceptive care not medically necessary.

At the time, Judge Gary L. Olstad said the matter “is really quite simple. Pregnancy is a medical condition. … Only women can become pregnant. Contraceptives are prescribed primarily to prevent pregnancy.”

Lon Newman, executive director of Family Planning Health Services in Wausau, said most companies won’t want to risk the possibility of facing similar legal issues.

But Newman said he doesn’t understand why a policy issue is tucked into the budget.

“I think in terms of my values and expressing an attitude about women’s health, it certainly sends a signal that the administration has an ideological agenda,” Newman said. “And this would not by any means meet a fiscal responsibility standard.”

“What we’re saying is it was wrong for the government to force (anyone against birth control) into the position to potentially violate their conscience,” Sande said.Under federal law, self-insured companies are not subjected to state insurance mandates, meaning the change won’t affect them in any way, Dougherty said.

Under current law, any company that drops contraceptive coverage for employees also faces the risk of discrimination lawsuits.

In 2006, an administrative law judge found that Marathon County discriminated against three employees when it deemed prescription contraceptive care not medically necessary.

At the time, Judge Gary L. Olstad said the matter “is really quite simple. Pregnancy is a medical condition. … Only women can become pregnant. Contraceptives are prescribed primarily to prevent pregnancy.”

Lon Newman, executive director of Family Planning Health Services in Wausau, said most companies won’t want to risk the possibility of facing similar legal issues.

But Newman said he doesn’t understand why a policy issue is tucked into the budget.

“I think in terms of my values and expressing an attitude about women’s health, it certainly sends a signal that the administration has an ideological agenda,” Newman said. “And this would not by any means meet a fiscal responsibility standard.”

http://www.wausaudailyherald.com/article/20110322/WDH0101/103220439/Walker-s-plan-change-contraceptive-coverage-rule-met-praise-suspicion-indifference?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

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