SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a bill into law Monday that will save some Illinois women hundreds of dollars in birth control costs each year.
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires state-regulated health insurance plans to cover birth control pills, patches, shots and other forms of prescription contraceptive drugs, devices and associated services for women. State employees will also receive those benefits, but the law does not include coverage of abortion or sterilization procedures.
Women of reproductive age pay an average of 68 percent more out-of-pocket health care costs than men, largely because of birth control-related drugs and services, according to Illinois Planned Parenthood.
"It's just fundamentally unfair when insurers reimburse men who use Viagra, but deny coverage to women who use birth control," Blagojevich said. "With this new law, that's about to change."
Women's Health Task Force organizer Brooke Anderson of Champaign traveled to Chicago for the bill-signing ceremony, along with Claudia Lennhoff of Champaign County Health Care Consumers and Allison Jones, a University of Illinois student who volunteered her time to help lobby for passage of the bill.
"The passage of contraceptive coverage legislation is an incredible victory for women all over Illinois who have been paying out-of-pocket for their birth control for years now," Anderson said. "Finally, prescription contraceptives will be more affordable to women in Illinois and will be recognized as a part of basic health care for women. This is a great step toward addressing gender discrimination in health care."
It will also correct an inequality in health benefits across the three campuses of the University of Illinois, said Kathleen Pecknold, associate provost and director of academic human resources for the Urbana campus.
"This is really wonderful for our employees," Pecknold said. "We're very pleased."
UIUC employees can get free birth control pills on campus though a program started by Chancellor Nancy Cantor, but the service does not include all brands of pills or other methods of birth control and does not cover employees' dependents.
Contraceptives are already covered as part of the health plans for employees at the Chicago and Springfield campuses.
With the new law, it becomes part of the basic package for employees at all three campuses, Pecknold said.
"I think it's wonderful," she said.
Not everyone was happy with the new law, however.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce called it an unfunded health care mandate that could make insurance coverage for employees prohibitively expensive for some small businesses. And state Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, withheld his support because the bill did not include a specific exemption for businesses with religious objections to contraceptive use.
Supporters of the legislation said state law already offers a blanket religious exemption clause and cited a study by the Washington Business Group on Health that found not providing contraceptive coverage can result in unintended pregnancies that can actually cost businesses 15 percent to 17 percent more than providing coverage for birth control.
The new law will make Illinois the 20th state to require insurance coverage of contraceptives.
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