SPRINGFIELD - Health insurance plans would be required to cover contraceptives under a bill the Senate approved Friday, potentially saving women hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket costs each year.
"With this bill, women's health issues will no longer take a back seat," said state Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago. "Twenty other states, along with the federal government, already have enacted legislation to cover contraceptives."
The measure would compel state-regulated insurance plans to cover birth control pills, diaphragms, Depo-Provera and other forms of prescription contraceptive drugs, devices and associated services, and require such coverage for state employees as well.
The Senate approved the measure 34 to 23 with one voting present.
"We're delighted that it passed," said Brooke Anderson of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, a member of the Champaign-based Women's Health Task Force coalition that has been fighting for the bill.
But the group did not get the one vote it worked for the hardest: that of Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign.
The group picketed Winkel's district office earlier this week and delivered more than 1,300 letters, calls and e-mails from constituents asking him to vote for the bill.
"We are very disappointed in Sen. Winkel," Anderson said. "He really turned his back on our community."
Winkel said he opposed the bill because it did not include a conscience clause for companies like Provena in his district that have a religious objection to contraceptives.
"I believe that we need to be sensitive to the religious objection of those that would be impacted by this legislation," Winkel said. "I would vote for this bill if it had a conscience clause. I believe others would, too."
Martinez, who sponsored the legislation, said the state statutes already include a right of conscience law, making Winkel's proposed amendment unnecessary.
But Winkel said the amendment was needed to remove any ambiguity.
The University of Illinois backed the bill because it would help equalize health benefits across all three campuses of the university.
Contraceptives are covered as part of the health plans for employees at the Chicago and Springfield campuses, but not at the Urbana-Champaign campus, according to Kathleen Pecknold, associate provost and director of academic human resources.
UIUC employees can get free birth control pills on campus, but the service does not include all brands of pills or other methods of birth control, and it does not cover employees' dependents.
According to the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, women pay an average of 68 percent more out-of-pocket health care costs than men, largely because of birth control, which can be several hundred dollars a year.
The House passed the bill 73 to 36 earlier this spring, but the Senate added an amendment to clarify that the legislation did not include coverage of abortion or sterilization procedures.
The House must now vote to concur with that amendment before the bill heads to the governor.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich is in support of the legislation and is likely to sign it when it gets to his desk, said his spokesman Tom Schafer.
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