Gov. Scott Walker wants to again give insurance companies discretion over whether they will cover contraception.

His budget, released Tuesday, proposes the elimination of a recently passed law that requires insurance plans that cover prescription drugs to also include coverage for prescription birth control. Walker’s budget summary says the requirement is an “unacceptable government mandate on employers with moral objections to these services,” and that it “increases the cost of health insurance for all payers.”

The law was included in the 2009 budget signed by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and first went into effect on Jan. 1, 2010. For Rep. Terese Berceau, in particular, it was a long time in coming. The Democrat from Madison first introduced such a bill in 1999, saying that “access to affordable and quality health care for women should no longer be a luxury.” And she has long argued that allowing insurance companies to consider contraception “optional care” places “excessive financial burdens upon women of reproductive age.”

Anti-abortion activists and the Catholic Diocese of Madison have opposed attempts to pass the mandate. But with support from public health and family planning groups, a Democratic-controlled Legislature in 2009 finally passed the measure.

Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, called the governor’s budget proposal “yet another example of Walker’s war on the middle class and his short-sightedness and irresponsibility. We know that access to basic health care, including contraception, saves money for families and taxpayers.”

The Capital Times asked Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie for data that backs up the governor’s claim that the contraceptive equity law increases the cost of health insurance for all payers. Werwie responded, but the link he provided to a portion of the governor's budget gives no further information on that point.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, however, cites statistics from The National Business Group on Health, an organization representing more than 160 large national and multi-national employers, which estimates that failing to provide contraception coverage actually costs employers 15 to 17 percent more than providing it.

According to a 2001 report by the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, one in five of the most popular insurance plans with prescription drug coverage in Wisconsin did not cover birth control. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 25 states, including Wisconsin, now have laws requiring insurers that cover prescription drugs to also provide coverage for prescription birth control.

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