Californians, Federal Employees Secure Contraceptive Coverage
On September 27, Gov. Gray Davis (D) signed legislation making California the 10th state to require most private-sector insurance plans to cover Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved prescription contraceptive methods if they provide coverage for other outpatient prescription drugs. The California legislature has approved such a mandate four times in the past five years; the previous three bills were vetoed by then-governor Pete Wilson (R).
Like many of the measures approved in other states (TGR, Vol. 2, No. 4, August 1999), the new California law contains a narrow exemption that allows employers to opt out of providing contraceptive benefits that are contrary to the employer's "religious tenets"; the exemption, however, applies only to a nonprofit organization that has as its purpose the inculcation of religious values and that employs and serves primarily people who share its religious tenets. In addition to California, eight states—Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Vermont—enacted a contraceptive coverage requirement this year, joining Maryland, which approved the first such law in 1998.
Meanwhile, Congress on September 21 approved and sent to President Bill Clinton legislation that would renew for a second year a requirement that as a condition of participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), insurance plans include coverage of all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives. The requirement was renewed without debate by the Senate as part of the annual appropriations bill that includes funding for the FEHBP. During House consideration of the same measure, however, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) attempted to gut the provision by allowing health plans to opt out of the coverage requirement on the basis of "moral" convictions, rather than, as under current law, solely on the basis of religious beliefs; the House rejected Smith's position, 217-200. Clinton signed the legislation on September 29.