Last Thursday, third-year Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke was called by Democrats to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the recent White House requirement that employers must provide contraceptives without a copayment in their insurance plans. Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) refused to let Fluke testify, sparking a controversy regarding fair representation.
Earlier this month, the Obama administration released a federal regulation requiring all insurance providers to cover contraceptives at no cost to the employee as part of the health care reform law that the President signed nearly two years ago. Exceptions were made for objecting churches and places of worship, but not for religiously-affiliated organizations like charities, hospitals, and universities such as Georgetown.
Issa convened a hearing to determine whether this regulation violated these institutions’ religious liberties. House Democrats requested that Fluke testify, but Issa refused, saying that Democrats did not submit her name in time for consideration, a charge which Democrats contest. At Issa’s refusal, Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) stormed out of the all-male panel, saying: “Where are the women?”
Democrats asked Fluke to testify again this Thursday at the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, but the Republican-controlled body refused to televise the event. “House Republicans are again trying to silence voices of women affected by the policy,” Fluke told the Voice.
Fluke, the former president of the Georgetown chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice, planned to affirm her support for the new mandate and recount her experience with one of her friends at Georgetown Law. According to Fluke’s written testimony, her classmate was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome and required oral contraceptives to prevent development of ovarian cysts. Contraceptives are not covered by the University’s student health policy with UnitedHealthcare Insurance unless they are being used to treat another condition.
In this case, Fluke’s friend, despite confirmation of her illness from her doctor, was never able to get her medication. “Her claim was denied repeatedly on the assumption that she really wanted the birth control to prevent pregnancy,” Fluke said. “She’s gay, so clearly polycystic ovarian syndrome was a much more urgent concern than accidental pregnancy.”
According to Fluke, her friend could not keep up with $100 per month out-of-pocket payments for her medication, so she had to forgo treatment until a cyst developed on her ovary, requiring its removal altogether. Such a procedure caused early menopause and likely infertility in the law student, said Fluke.
According to a survey by LSRJ, 40 percent of female Georgetown Law students reported struggling financially as a result of the lack of birth control coverage. Additionally, according to the same body, 20 percent could never get the insurance company to cover birth control for legitimate medical reasons.
Georgetown denies culpability for incidents like this one. “The Student Health Center and the Office of Student Insurance have consistently worked together to minimize administrative issues for students seeking insurance coverage for oral contraceptives prescribed for medical conditions,” University spokeswoman Stacy Kerr said. “Students routinely are provided coverage when a medical condition is present that necessitates the use of such contraceptives.”
United HealthCare Insurance Company, the provider for the student health plan, did not respond to requests for comment and has not released a statement regarding Fluke’s testimony.
LSRJ has been lobbying the Georgetown administration for several years to start covering birth control in its student health plans. The University already offers several health plans that cover contraception for University employees. Over the past year, LSRJ had meetings with the University at which they presented their view of how the policy was affecting students. Invoking the D.C. Human Rights Act, LSRJ demanded that the University change its policy. The issue reached the Office of the President last year, which upheld the policy.
Several small, religiously affiliated schools, including Ave Maria College in southern Florida, have filed a lawsuit to prevent the new mandate on insured birth control from taking effect. There is no indication that Georgetown will join the suit.
The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Catholic Health Association, and Catholic Charities USA all expressed support for the mandate. Georgetown has said it will comply with the new federal regulations, which take effect for most employers on Aug. 1 of this year.