Legislation responds to U.S. Supreme Court’s “Hobby Lobby” ruling that threatens access to basic health care for thousands of Minnesota women
SAINT PAUL, MN – State lawmakers introduced the Contraceptive Health Equity and Employee Rights (CHEER) Act today to ensure Minnesota women have access to contraception coverage regardless of where they work. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby created serious gaps in contraception coverage for women in Minnesota. Coverage has been put in jeopardy by allowing certain for-profit employers to discriminate against female employees.
The CHEER Act, first announced last fall, would address these coverage gaps by requiring employer health plans to include coverage for all Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved contraceptive methods and procedures if the employer’s health plan provides prescription drug coverage to its employees. The proposal includes an exemption for non-profit religious employers.
“Women hold the right to decide for themselves when and whether to use birth control, without interference from their employer,” said Rep. Erin Murphy. “An employer's personal religious beliefs should not trump an employee's access to contraception. The Supreme Court's misguided ruling, and the recent rulings in Minnesota, mean that we need to take action to assure health care equity and access for Minnesota women.”
“A woman’s health care decisions are her choices and her choices alone,” said Sen. Pappas. “To cite ideology as a reason to deny a woman’s access to contraceptive coverage is not only discriminatory; it’s dangerous and completely unacceptable. Minnesota women deserve better than that.”
Absent a legislative response, federal and state rulings mean Minnesota women will have to pay more for medication to prevent pregnancy and treat serious conditions. With recent rulings in Minnesota, employers have already begun to limit coverage and create additional obstacles for women to access these life-saving health care treatments.
The Court’s ruling is limited to “closely-held” for-profit corporations, but that definition appears to include numerous, large Minnesota employers as long as they have fewer than 35 shareholders – such companies employ hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans. And the ruling may allow closely-held, for-profit employers to also deny basic preventive health care services like vaccines or HIV treatment for their employees.
The CHEER Act would include the following:
Ensures Coverage: All Minnesota health insurance plans that provide prescription drug coverage must cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures and related medical services.
No Additional Cost: Prevents health plans from imposing cost-sharing for FDA-approved contraceptive methods.
Must Disclose Withheld Benefits: Requires religious employers choosing to deny coverage for religious reasons to provide written disclosure - during the application process, in the employee's first two checks and in employee handbooks - about what health benefits they may limit or exempt due to their religious beliefs. Any employer who limits coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives must also inform employees about how to obtain contraceptive coverage, at no additional cost, directly from the employer's health plan.
Religious Organizations Exempted: Exempts religious institutions and some closely-held for-profit corporations from providing contraceptive coverage in their health plans. In these instances, the entities must comply with the disclosure requirements under the CHEER Act.
“Since the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling came down, we’ve seen employers limiting coverage in Minnesota. I have heard from women – and men – expressing serious concerns about what this could mean – for their health, for their families, and for their pocketbooks,” said Murphy. “This is an issue that affects Minnesotans to their core and they are paying attention. Minnesotans deserve to know we’re prepared to make women’s health a priority this session.”