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Law center files complaint against Pa. State System of Higher Education over pregnancy benefits

| Tuesday, June 4, 2013, 3:27 p.m.

The National Women's Law Center on Tuesday filed a complaint against the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education saying it discriminates against women because its health plans fail to provide pregnancy benefits to dependent children of state university employees.

A spokesman for the state system, one of five public and private organizations across the country hit with a complaint, said system officials required assurances from insurers that all would comply with President Obama's Affordable Care Act when they submitted proposals to provide coverage.

“Employees may choose one of several plans, including either an HMO or PPO. The HMO plans provide full maternity coverage to covered dependent daughters. The PPO plan provides coverage to dependent daughters for some prenatal care and testing, as well as coverage for any procedures required as a result of complications resulting from pregnancy,” said Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the university system that oversees 14-state owned schools including Indiana, California and Slippery Rock universities.

Officials with the Washington, D.C.-based National Women's Law Center, however, said organizations that accept federal funds must now provide full maternity coverage to employees' dependent children up to age 26 under the Affordable Care Act.

“Pregnancy coverage is an essential insurance benefit for women,” said law center Co-president Marcia D. Greenberger. “Our message to PASSHE and every institution providing health insurance in the country is that treating pregnancy differently, including by omitting it from health insurance coverage, is sex discrimination, pure and simple, and as such violates the law.”

The group is asking the Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights to require PASSHE; Auburn University in Alabama; Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.; Beacon Health System in South Bend, Ind.; and Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, to adjust their health plans to comply with the law.

Sharon Levin, director of federal reproductive health policy for the National Women's Law Center, said the group suspects many companies and organizations across the country could be failing to comply with the law.

“We chose these organizations as representative organizations,” Levin said of the groups against which the law center filed complaints.

Rona Kaufman Kitchen, an assistant professor of law at Duquesne University, said the law center might be able to make a strong case.

“If employees' male children are being provided comprehensive health care coverage, but the female children are being denied maternity coverage, then the policy is arguably discriminating on the basis of sex because it denies female children of employees what they need for ‘comprehensive' health-care coverage,” she said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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