Local News

Women Could Get a Clean Bill of Health From General Assembly

Posted February 15, 1999

— Having a mammogram or a pap smear can save a woman's life, but for some the procedure is out of reach; a new proposal in theGeneral Assemblycould change that.

The proposal is receiving a lot of support from senators who believe there's a double standard in the insurance industry when it comes to men and women.

The "little blue pill that could" has some senators seeing red. "There are insurance companies that are paying for Viagra," says Senator Betsy Cochrane. "They need to be treating women equally on these prescription drug issues."

Sen. Cochrane and others, including the Women's Caucus, have signed on in support of the bill, which would force all insurance companies to cover contraceptives. Currently, 20 to 30 percent of insurers do not cover contraceptives except when used to prevent medical conditions like endometriosis.

Sen. Jim Forrester is the primary sponsor of the bill. He is also a private physician. Forrester wants insurance companies to cover birth control pills prescribed to prevent pregnancies.

"Maybe a year and a half ago or so I had a patient who I prescribed birth control pills for, and her pharmacist called and said her insurance did not cover birth control pills, and I was quite surprised," Forrester says.

Forrester says insurance companies rejecting contraceptives claims flies in the face of preventive medicine.

"They would have pregnancies they don't have to pay for," Forrester says. Deliveries would cost thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars if a baby is born prematurely, he explains.

Forrester knows most insurance companies, HMOs included, offer policies with contraceptive options. But those policies include stipulations, and the new bill would eliminate the stipulations.

Nancy Thompson with North Carolina Citizens Business and Industry says the state should not be involved in what is usually a personal decision.

"It should be an employer's decision whether he or she needs to provide this coverage to their employees," says Thompson.

"Benefits are a major concern to people," she says, "and if they don't find the benefits that are right for them with their current employer, then they're going to look elsewhere."

The bill is on what is referred to as a fast track; it was introduced Monday night, and is already on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting of the Senate Health Care Committee.


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