Arizona contraception coverage bill being reworked - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Arizona contraception coverage bill being reworked

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Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 8:45 am | Updated: 10:01 am, Fri Mar 23, 2012.

Supporters of legislation to let employers refuse to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees are reworking the measure to overcome privacy concerns and save it from possible defeat.

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said the House-passed measure is being altered in the Senate to spell out that women who want contraceptives for some reason other than birth control will not have to explain why to their employers. Instead, that information would be furnished only to the insurer that handles the employer's coverage.

Herrod said that should alleviate fears that workers will be detailing their medical problems to their bosses.

But Anjali Abraham, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that still leaves privacy concerns.

"You're still required to fork over private information about your medical condition,'' she said.

Potentially more significant, Abraham said the legislation requires the worker to provide evidence that the contraceptives are not being used, even in part, to prevent pregnancy.

"I'm not entirely sure how you prove a negative,'' Abraham said.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, has vowed to press on with the measure. Lesko said her legislation, HB 2625, provides needed protections for employers with religious objections to contraceptives.

A 2002 law spells out that Arizona employers whose insurance for workers includes prescriptions must also cover contraceptives.

There is an exception for "religious employers.'' But that is narrowly defined to include churches and church-run organizations that serve or employ mostly members of their own faith.

This legislation would expand that not only to other church-run organizations like hospitals and charities but to any employer who filed an objection, claiming funding contraceptives "is contrary to the religious beliefs of the purchaser ... of the coverage.''

Women who need contraceptives for other medical purposes would have to pay for the drugs themselves and then seek reimbursement, "with evidence that the prescription is not in whole or in part for a purpose covered by the (employer's) objection.''

Lesko said that led to the misunderstanding that the reimbursement request would go to the employer, which is why she will clarify it to say it's the insurer who gets that information. She said insurers get that kind of information all the time in processing claims.

Abraham, however, said this is different.

"The courts have recognized a particular privacy right in family planning,'' she said, whether it's telling an employer or an insurer.

Then there's that requirement to prove the birth control pills are being used solely to treat a medical condition like endometreosis, which affects the uterus, and not because the woman also wants to prevent getting pregnant.

Ron Johnson, who lobbies on behalf of the state's three Catholic bishops, said HB 2625 was patterned after the 2002 law and the already existing exemption.

But that decade-old law says only that a woman wanting contraceptives covered by insurance has to submit only evidence "that the prescription is for a noncontraceptive purpose,'' with no requirement that women show they also are not simultaneously interested in preventing pregnancy.

There is increasing indication that some Republicans may just as soon see the politically divisive issue disappear.

On Friday, Gov. Jan Brewer said she had not yet studied the legislation.

"But I certainly would probably agree with the majority of people that would be a little bit uncomfortable for a woman to have to go to her employer and tell him or her their health private issues,'' she said.

And Sen. John McCain, appearing this weekend on Meet the Press, predicted Brewer would veto the bill -- assuming it reaches her desk. He also said, in response to a question of whether his party has a "war on women,'' that appears to be at least the perception and the GOP needs to "get off that issue.''

"I think we ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives and make that clear and go back onto what the American people really care about: jobs and the economy,'' he said.

"They don't really understand the bill,'' Lesko responded, saying that the measure was being billed as requiring women to tell their employers about their medical conditions. She said the new language will clear that up.

Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said he would not comment about what his boss might do with the legislation.

Abraham said she understands the existing exemption for religious employers.

"But if you're setting up a Starbucks franchise or a Taco Bell or something like that, you've chosen to enter the public sphere in a way that religious employers don't,'' she said. And Abraham said even church-run operations like a hospital or charity, should not be allowed to eliminate contraceptive coverage for their workers.

"Those are still employers that have chosen to employ people from all walks of life, including all religious backgrounds,'' she said. "And you've got to honor that.''

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