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June 17, 2002
NY Lawmakers Strike Deal on Women's Benefits
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er two years of negotiations, the two chambers of the New York legislature have come to terms on a bill that would require insurers to cover a range of women's health services, like birth control and mammograms.

Lawmakers, top legislative aides and advocacy groups involved in the negotiations all told the New York Times that they expect passage of a bill very soon. The serious disagreements have been dealt with, and all that remains, they said, is to work out the language in a few areas. Gov. George E. Pataki has said that he will sign the bill.

The bill would require job-based insurance plans to cover contraceptives, with a limited "conscience clause" exemption for religious employers, like the Roman Catholic Church, that object for doctrinal reasons, according to the Times. It would require coverage of mammograms starting at age 40, and of screening for cervical cancer and osteoporosis.

"This would give New York the most comprehensive women's health coverage law in the country," said Kelli Conlin, who is the executive director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League in New York and has been involved in the negotiations.

"The last few years have made me really gun-shy about saying it, but I think we've actually come to the verge of agreement," Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick said.

Seventeen states, including Connecticut, have laws that require birth control coverage, according to women's health groups, while five others, including New Jersey, have more limited requirements imposed by administrative regulations.

Twelve of those states have some kind of exemption for religious employers - all of which are broader than the one New York is poised to adopt, the Times reports. Many states require mammogram coverage, but advocates say none require it as early as age 40. And they say New York may be the first state to require osteoporosis screening.

The Democratic majority in the Assembly has been pushing for a bill like this one for years, and serious negotiations began two years ago. Last year, a Senate-Assembly conference committee failed to reach an agreement on the issue. The main obstacle was that the Senate Republicans insisted on a broad "conscience clause" for Catholic Church, while the Assembly Democrats wanted no exemption, or a very limited one. That gap narrowed earlier this year.

Employers would come under the conscience clause only if they met three criteria: their primary function is religious, most of the people it serves share that religion and most of the people it employs also share that religion. In other words, the conscience clause would not apply to Catholic hospitals or schools. Church employees who cannot get birth control through their health plans would be able to buy it through an insurance pool to be created by the State Health Department.

The bill would mandate that even church-based plans that come under the conscience clause would have to cover birth control prescriptions intended to treat medical problems.

To view the New York Times article, click here. Registration required.


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