Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that more and more employers are adding "disease management programs" to their employee health plans. These programs include preventive measures such as cholesterol screenings, cancer detection tests and smoking cessation. Such programs save money, not to mention lives.
As the insurance industry and employers review the benefits of such measures, they should add contraception to the list of covered preventive measures. Less than half of traditional insurance plans in America cover contraceptives, according to testimony presented last month to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Pregnancy dramatically affects a woman's health for up to a year or more. For some women with other medical conditions, pregnancy can be dangerous. Even healthy pregnant women often require multiple doctor visits, a hospital stay, a birth process that can involve anesthesia and/or surgery, and sometimes costly tests.
Common sense says that using contraception to stop an unintended and undesired pregnancy from occurring will avert those costs and risks. According to employee benefits consultant William M. Mercer Inc., the average cost of adding contraceptives to a health plan is $17 per employee per year, or about 1 percent more on an employer's annual health insurance bill. Such costs are marginal compared to the expenses that can accrue from an unintended pregnancy.
Sixteen state legislatures have ordered that health plans cover contraception, though Louisiana lawmakers scuttled a similar bill this year. Two main opponents challenged the legislation: the insurance industry, which says it opposes any mandated benefit no matter how minimal the cost; and the Catholic Church, which argues that such a law would force Catholic employers -- be they institutions or individuals -- to provide a benefit prohibited by church doctrine.
We agree in part, and disagree in part, with the Church's objection. We agree that mandated contraceptive coverage should include a "conscience clause" exempting a church-affiliated employer (such as a Catholic school) from having to offer contraceptive benefits. Employees who work for religious institutions are well aware that their job means accepting the values expressed by those institutions. However, we disagree with the notion that individual employers should be able to let their personal religious beliefs determine the scope and quality of their employees' health plans. Some faiths shun procedures that are considered part of mainstream health care. Should employees whose boss happens to be a Christian Scientist be denied access to prescription drugs under their health plan? We think not, and we would therefore draw the line at institutional employers.
In June, a federal judge in Seattle ruled that an employer who failed to cover contraception was excluding a "fundamental" health care need for women, and thus violated federal sex discrimination laws. His decision echoed an earlier federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling. We hope employers in Louisiana add contraceptive coverage to employee health plans -- and we believe they should be mandated to do so. It's for the good of not only their employees, but also their businesses.
Quinn for School Board
On Saturday, Oct. 20, voters in District 4 of the Jefferson Parish School Board -- which includes Bucktown, Shrewsbury and Old Metairie -- will elect one of two Republican women to fill the unexpired term of Laurie Rolling. Attorney Julie Quinn and Denise Carpenter, an assistant principal for special education at three parish schools, are both serious candidates who are in the race for all the right reasons. Of the two, we endorse Quinn.
A civic activist, Quinn has a clear vision for the 49,000-student district, which enjoyed better-than-expected scores on recent statewide accountability tests, but nonetheless faces severe funding problems amid a teacher shortage. She has sound ideas of how to attract and retain quality teachers, a critical issue for a district with among the lowest metro area levels for teacher pay. She also understands the need to broaden the political base of the public school system, which loses students to private schools in the higher grades.
Quinn has served on the board of directors of both Doctors Hospital and Jefferson Parish Dollars for Scholars, and she enjoys strong backing from the business community. The Board is charged with balancing a $280 million annual operating budget and overseeing 7,000 employees. It will need to make some tough calls soon to fund the long-range strategic plan for the school system. We think voters of District 4 will be well served by Julie Quinn.