Court to Company: Pay for the Pill 

Clearing the way for gender equity in contraceptive coverage

Viagra prescription: check. Passionate couple: check. A little privacy: check. A spawn shield: not quite.

So your insurance plan happily bellies up for that stay-up male enhancement pill then balks at covering contraceptives? Check yourself off as one of the many Americans with a health insurance plan often labeled unfair-or even downright discriminatory, according to a recent court ruling.

An Idaho woman, tired of the gap in her coverage, recently said enough with the inequality and took her Fortune 500 employer to court. Brandi Standridge of Pocatello told judges her insurance plan wouldn't boot the bill for contraceptives, and that just reeks of injustice. The U.S. District Court of Nebraska agreed, and handed down a decision that could pave the way for other women to access insurance-covered prescription contraceptives.

"The wording of this decision absolutely sets a positive precedence for future contraceptive laws here and across the nation," said Rebecca Poedy of Planned Parenthood of Idaho. "We do believe that contraceptive equality is important to all women and employers need to be paying attention."

Standridge and Kenya Phillips of Kansas City represented current and former Union Pacific employees, including 950 other Idaho women, in a class action suit against railroad. The District Court ruled that Union Pacific's decision to exclude contraceptive coverage in its health plans for unionized workers is tantamount to sex discrimination and violates Title II of the Federal Civil Rights Act. Title VII is meant to defeat race and sex discrimination in the workplace.

Poedy says contraception coverage poses no hardship to companies and could actually save dollars. According to Planned Parenthood, every dollar spent on contraceptives saves $3 in pregnancy-associated costs, including prenatal health care, delivery and well-baby care for the first three months after birth. The nonprofit reproductive health care organization considers contraceptive access part of basic health care, yet Poedy says many employers are still reluctant to cover the costs of prescription contraceptives.

"When Viagra first came out on the market, within six months over 80 percent of insurance companies covered Viagra. Well, we are still fighting for basic contraceptive coverage," Poedy said. "There is an absolute imbalance between coverage for Viagra and coverage for contraceptives that needs to be addressed."

GET INVOLVED: To learn more about contraceptive coverage, laws, how to lobby employers for insurance covered contraceptives and what to do if you're denied contraceptives or contraceptive coverage, visit www.covermypills.org.

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