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My Turn: Hobby Lobby decision should outrage Alaskans

Posted: July 23, 2014 - 11:05pm
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich speaks during an interview at the Juneau Empire.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich speaks during an interview at the Juneau Empire.

As I’ve traveled our state this summer to hear about issues Alaskans are most concerned about, one generates more frustration, disappointment and outrage than any other – the recent U.S. Supreme Court case limiting a woman’s access to birth control.

In late June, a narrow majority of five male justices issued an opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell, in which for-profit companies challenged the guarantee that women receive health insurance coverage of birth control of her choice without cost-sharing.

As Alaskans, we don’t want the government intruding into our lives and telling us how to make personal decisions. Bosses should not be able to dictate family planning and birth control options for Alaska women.

This doesn’t just impact women in the workplace. If a family receives insurance through a man’s employer, it can impact his wife or daughter’s access to health care.

That is why I recently cosponsored the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act, also known as the Not My Boss’ Business Act. The bill makes it illegal for any company to deny its workers specific health benefits, including birth control, required to be covered by federal law.

This makes it clear that bosses cannot discriminate against their female workers, ensuring equal treatment under the law. This bill was recently blocked from moving forward on the Senate floor, but I remain undeterred in my efforts to ensure women have the right to choose the birth control and reproductive care options that are best for them.

In an effort to make sure women are informed about their employer’s stand on this issue, I am the lead co-sponsor of The Preventive Care Coverage Notification Act. It ensures that current employees and job applicants at for-profit corporations are informed in advance if the corporation intends to deny birth control coverage.

The bill calls on the secretaries of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury to develop standards and requirements to make sure current and prospective employees are notified if their employer excludes coverage for health care services required under law, including contraceptive services.

The simple fact that 99 percent of women will use contraceptives at some point in their lives shows just how out-of-touch this decision is. As a result of the Hobby Lobby case, more than 60,000 Alaska women could be denied access to the affordable birth control and reproductive care options that work best for them.

Without birth control coverage in their health plan, Alaska women are at risk of not being able to get the health care that they and their doctor determine is best for them. Women also could face higher health costs than their male counterparts and other lost economic opportunities.

That means the Supreme Court decision not only limits a woman’s personal health care choice, but this is also an economic issue for Alaska families.

According to a recent study, last year women and families saved an average of $269 on their out-of-pocket costs on birth control. For Alaska’s working families, that means $40 less that can be used to buy groceries, school supplies or pay for utilities.

This is not just about birth control; this is about personal choice and our Alaska values. Providing the same access to health care, ensuring equal pay for equal work, and protecting our women and families is just common sense.

One of my first votes when I arrived in Washington, D.C. was for the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, because fair pay in the workplace is just common sense.

The Hobby Lobby decision has awakened women in Alaska and I intend to keep fighting for the basics, such as equal pay and access to health care. When we support women, we are supporting families, communities and the overall economy.

• Mark Begich is a U.S. Senator and Democrat from Alaska.

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