Over at NARAL’s Blog for Choice, blogger Thomas tells the story of a woman living in West Seattle, Washington, who found herself entangled with insurance companies over the right to become pregnant. This woman was a busy working mother who had an intrauterine device (IUD) implanted after the birth of her child. Her husband’s insurance company, Regence BlueShield, covered the insertion of the IUD, but when she decided that she wanted to get pregnant again, they refused to remove the device, saying that it was not “medically necessary.”
It turns out this woman wasn’t alone. After repeated denials and lots of paperwork from Regence, she filed a complaint with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner. When the state investigated, they discovered that this women had filed the only complaint. However, 984 women had their claims illegally denied, and presumably paid the removal fee (which runs around several hundred dollars) out of pocket.
None of the women spoke up, perhaps because they were so busy. As the West Seattle woman explained, most women who have IUDs are working mothers with at least one child, so “it’s easier to just pay it, so you can move on to something more important — like sleep.”
Washington has a contraceptive equity law, so Regence’s actions were blatantly illegal. The state told Regence to reimburse the women who had filed claims, and to drive the message home, fined the company $100,000 and required it to pay the women eight percent interest on the denied claims.
As Thomas points out, Washington is one of 28 states that requires insurance companies to cover prescription contraceptives in the same way that they would cover any other medication (although 20 of these states have religious exemptions, which is a debate for another day). But there are 22 states where it would be legal to deny this woman her IUD removal, and where insurance companies wouldn’t have to pay for its insertion in the first place.
This, of course, won’t be a problem anymore in a year, when insurance companies across the country will be required under the new health-care reform law to provide birth control without a deductible. But until then, women could be wading through paperwork, or simply paying for services out of pocket, because of insurance companies’ unwillingness to treat contraceptives like other medications.
Although the woman from West Seattle certainly wasn’t given appropriate financial compensation, at least she achieved her original desire: she’s now the mother of a 6-month-old baby girl. But just think about it. She was the only woman – out of nearly 1,000 – who had time to successfully complain.
Photo from kate* via flickr.