JEFFERSON CITY • The health insurance program covering over 95,000 Missouri state employees and retirees is now offering members the option of declining birth control coverage.
In an announcement on its website, the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan said workers opposed to having those services can opt out by a Nov. 20 deadline.
“If you declare you have a religious or moral objection, your benefits will provide no coverage for contraception as either a medical or pharmacy benefit for non-Medicare primary individuals covered on your plan,” the notice reads.
Judith Muck, executive director of the health insurance program, said the plan’s board of directors voted to begin offering the change at its Oct. 26 meeting in response to President Trump’s decision to roll back rules requiring insurers to provide contraceptive coverage to women.
Provisions of the Affordable Care Act championed by former President Obama had required plans to cover all contraception methods that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration with no out-of-pocket cost to women.
Since then, studies have shown a significant decline in out-of-pocket costs for birth control, according to Planned Parenthood and other advocates.
In addition, since the contraception mandate went into effect in mid-2012, abortion rates have continued to decline. There were 5,751 abortions performed in Missouri in 2011 compared to 4,765 in 2015, the latest figures available from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
The requirement, however, has been pared down through regulation and court actions to exempt some religious-based organizations, such as churches, and some privately held companies like the Hobby Lobby craft store chain.
Rules unveiled by the Trump administration in October expanded those exemptions to more insurance programs, including nonprofits and those that provide health plans to college students attending religious universities.
Missouri has had a law on its books dating to 2012 that would have allowed for the state to offer plans without birth control coverage, but the state did not implement it because it would have had to pay fines under the Affordable Care Act.
Muck said there will be little savings to employees who opt for not receiving contraceptive coverage. In some cases it could be $1 or $2 cheaper.
Of the estimated 95,527 people who are covered by the state plan, about 19,534 are retirees. The average age of a recipient is 40.
Muck said it is too early to estimate how many will opt out of contraception coverage.
The move by the state comes a year after Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, enrolled his family in a special Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan tailored to his family’s beliefs as Catholics that opposes the general use of contraception products.
He was able to get the revamped coverage after winning a federal court battle to be able to opt out of coverage that includes birth control products.
Wieland, the parent of three daughters, called it a relief to participated in a health care plan that doesn’t “violate our religious liberties.”