Employer's Health Plan Must Include Birth Control for Women
June 12, 2001 -- A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Bartell
Drug Co. must include contraceptives for women in its employee health insurance
The decision marks nearly a year of litigation, sparked when
Jennifer Erickson, a 27-year-old pharmacist, filed suit last summer because the
firm would not pay for prescription contraceptives. She contended that the
policy violated the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and sued for sexual
"Although the plan covers almost all drugs and devices used
by men," wrote U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik, "the exclusion of
prescription contraceptives creates a gaping hole in the coverage offered to
female employees, leaving a fundamental and immediate healthcare need
The widely watched lawsuit against Bartell became the first
federal challenge to employers who don't cover birth control.
"We have to determine, does this policy single out women
and put them at a disadvantage because of their potential for pregnancy, and
clearly it does," Erickson's lead attorney, Roberta Riley, told Lasnik at a
hearing last month.
However, Bartell lawyer James Dickens told the judge that is
the wrong interpretation of the pregnancy law. Thousands of pages of the
Congressional Record show no mention of birth control, he said.
"The state of not being pregnant was not covered by that
law," he said. Besides, Dickens said, Bartell's plans exclude a broad range
of family planning services.
Still, Bartell on Tuesday said it would comply with the ruling.
In April, the company added birth control to its health plans for union-covered
employees and now will "take prompt action" to add the benefit for
nonunion employees, such as Erickson, said Jean Bartell Barber. She is the
company's chief financial officer and granddaughter of its founder.
"It was never our intention to discriminate, and we had
planned to offer contraceptive coverage well before this judgment," she
Nationally, women's groups have been trying for years to force
employers to cover contraceptives in health insurance. While Erickson herself
would be able to afford to pay out-of-pocket for her prescription, she didn't
think she and millions of others should have to do so. At the time she filed
her suit, health experts told WebMD they agreed with her.
"Contraception is a fundamental part of healthcare,"
noted David A. Grimes, MD. "It's good, cost-effective, preventive
healthcare." He is vice president of biomedical affairs at Family Health
International, a nonprofit group in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
At the time Erickson filed suit, about half of all the large
group insurance plans were not paying for any form of prescription birth
control. Only about a third of health insurance plans included oral
contraceptives in their prescription drug coverage. Most HMOs were covering the
pill when the suit was filed.