Update & Correction: Mandatory Coverage of Birth Control Not Insurance Commissioner’s Purview

Last week, I wrote about a twitter petition that was started to let Washington DC’s new Insurance Commissioner, Gennett Purcell, know that allowing private insurance companies to opt out of covering contraception under individual plans was unacceptable. 

The petition was in response to a first-hand account of one woman’s experience of going to her physician to have her birth control prescription renewed, only to find that it was no longer covered under her private insurance plan.  The question became, was it because Washingon DC’s Insurance Commissioner, Gennett Purcell, had recently revised the policy, making birth control "non-mandatory" for private insurers? Or was this always the case? In my original post, I wrote that it was a change "under Purcell’s watch" that "has somehow flown under the radar." This statement does not appear to be true and it is a statement that I’d like to correct.  

Amanda Hess noted my post and blogged about it (and has since updated her post) over at Washington City Paper writing,

D.C. ladies on the pill: You may not know the name of Gennet Purcell, the woman that Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed to head up the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking last August. You should. Purcell may be responsible for sending your birth control costs through the roof.

The Washington DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) took notice and responded to the twitter petition and the blog posts:

The Department has no authority to force insurance companies to provide contraceptive coverage.

DISB has researched its recent consumer
complaint history and found no complaints about individual health
insurance not covering contraception. It is surveying insurance
companies writing individual health insurance in the District of
Columbia and, while responses are still coming in, has found that there
are individual plans available in DC that provide contraceptive

In a letter to one woman’s complaint, Associate Commissioner Phiip Barlow wrote,

"Commissioner Purcell and the Department of Insurance, Securites and Banking have not taken any recent actions related to the coverage of contraceptives in individual insurance, nor did the Department take any actions prior to Commissioner Purcell’s appointment. In fact, determining what benefits are mandatory in insurance is not at the discretion of the Commissioner, but rather mandatory coverages are those that are requiree by law. Contraceptives are not now, nor have they ever been a mandatory coverage in DC."

The woman who originally brought this issue to the attention of bloggers and activists responded to Barlow and DISB, 

"…What I personally, and the bloggers who have been talking about this issue, do object to is the fact that oral contraceptives are not being covered, mandatory or otherwise. As a female business owner, it is already challenging to have to take on the additional expense of a health insurance plan, as I am not part of a group plan. But by not having oral contraception covered is [sic] an additional expense that I should have not have to be burdened with simply because my insurance company has determined it doesn’t need to offer this coverage, as it has not been mandated by the District of Columbia. It is only fair that all health insurance companies, whether they provide services to groups or to individuals, allow women the option of managing her own reproduction in a way that she and her doctor have deemed appropriate." 

The twitter petition is still live to encourage signers to show support for encouraging insurance companies operating in Washington DC to cover birth control for all women, on all plans.

In a statement to RH Reality Check, the DISB reminded us that,

“…If you know of anyone who may have had problems with contraceptive coverage in the District of Columbia, please feel free to call the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) at (202) 727-8000 or visit our Web site at www.disb.dc.gov. Associate Commissioner Barlow, along with the rest of the agency’s staff, is willing to assist consumers with any financial-services-related complaints.”

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  • amanda-hess

    "The question became, was it because Washingon DC’s Insurance
    Commissioner, Gennett Purcell, had recently revised the policy, making
    birth control "non-mandatory" for private insurers? Or was this always
    the case?"

    I just want to note that this question was not in any way raised in your original post. The answer to this "question"—that Gennett Purcell had change the policy—was presented as fact, and the author did not note that any question about the origin of the policy was up in the air.

  • amie-newman

    You are correct. The question above had to do with the issues that were raised by those who started the twitter campaign. In my original post, I wrote it as if it were certainly the case, stating, “While the appointment was covered in the media, one recent change under Purcell’s watch has somehow flown under the radar.”

    In my post above, I clearly state that this does *not* appear to be true and the post, above, hopefully corrects what I wrote initially.

    Thanks, Amanda.

    Amie Newman

    Managing Editor, RH Reality Check