Bill calls for birth-control coverage

Published 9:34 am Thursday, March 8, 2012

ST. PAUL — A House bill to mandate benefits for certain employer-sponsored insurance coverage for contraceptives is drawing the attention of many Minnesota legislators.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, at the Capitol on Tuesday, expounds upon Congress’ 2010 federal overhaul of the nation’s health care system, and would require employer-sponsored health care plans to cover birth control at no co-pay.

“I think any time you are talking about insurance, insurance should be a sharing arrangement,” said Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea.

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Murray wonders where the money is going to come from if employers or insurance companies must cover those costs.

Murphy, however, said her plan could be a benefit to many unfortunate women. She estimated that without insurance to pay for it, a woman might pay $1,210 a year for contraceptives and related doctor visits. Murphy also said her bill includes a religious exemption for faith-based organizations. People covered by those employer health plans would get access to contraceptives paid for by their insurance company, she said.

“Covering contraception without cost sharing smartly confronts cost as a barrier for Minnesota women accessing effective health care,” Murphy said during a news conference at the Capitol.

However, Murray alluded back to the cost-sharing factor as the basis of insurance and a reason why the bill could be bad. He also cited reasons that insurance companies could simply raise costs.

“If an insurance company has to eat (costs), where is the cost going to go?” Murray asked. “It’s coming out of something.”

While many legislators must take a closer look at the bill and break down potential numbers, Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, looks at the bill with some optimism.

“I think we have to find a balance between what is offered and what both employers and employees pay for health care,” Poppe said. “I certainly think we have health care costs that are exceptionally high.”

Poppe is hoping to find out more details about the bill, and she is currently pushing for more feedback on her own bill, which calls for stiffer punishments for parents abuse their children. Poppe said she has spoken with the chair of the public safety committee, and he indicated he will not oppose the bill in the House. However, Poppe is still waiting for the House to hear her bill, something she has tried for multiple times. The bill, also introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, has not passed the Senate floor either.

“We’d like to be able to have a hearing so that all sides can come forward and describe what the situation is,” Poppe said.

Poppe and Sparks’ proposed legislation stems from the case of the Dexter couple who chained their 5-year-old son to his bed in 2011. However, she suspects other legislators may think the bill places too much government control over parental rights. Poppe is not sure if the bill will advance, as it must hit either the House or Senate floor before committee deadlines next Friday.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.