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    Employer's Health Plan Must Include Birth Control for Women

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    "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.

    The debate became particularly charged, however, after the introduction of Viagra, the male pill for erectile dysfunction, which some insurers cover.

    In December, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) declared that two employers violated the pregnancy discrimination law by failing to cover contraceptives -- but including other preventive treatments -- in health insurance plans.

    The EEOC said the 1978 law protects women against discrimination because they have the ability to become pregnant, not just because they are already pregnant.

    Congress in 1998 required that health plans for federal employees cover prescription contraceptives.

    Erickson has said she became frustrated when she had to constantly tell customers that they would have to pay for their birth control pills -- because many other health plans, like her company's, don't cover contraceptives -- though many do cover abortions and vasectomies.

    Bartell, founded in 1890, had 48 stores in the Seattle area as of last year and is the oldest family-owned drugstore chain in the nation.

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