CARSON CITY — Democratic lawmakers are proposing Nevada mandate that all health insurance plans cover birth control regardless of religious objections to contraceptives by family-owned businesses — an exemption recently validated by the nation’s highest court.
Two bills introduced in the Legislature would delete state laws that allow employers to exclude birth control pills and devices from their insurance plans if they oppose those treatments on religious grounds. Doing so would force all insurers to cover contraceptives, legislative analysts say.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that for-profit businesses under the control of just a few people — with no real distinction between the owners and the business — can hold religious views and lawfully choose not to cover employees’ contraceptives.
Democrats are in control of the Nevada Legislature for the first time since the court’s 5-4 decision on former President Barack Obama’s health care law, and they are searching for justification to scrap the exemption entirely, as proposed, or narrow it on the state level.
“It was a federal ruling, so we’re still trying to get an answer to that,” Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, said of how the change would be lawful in light of the ruling. “I have our legal teams doing some research on it.”
Ratti is one of three main sponsors of the Nevada legislation, along with Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno. Their bills also aim to increase the medical services that private insurers must provide at no extra charge.
“My goal is to make sure that as many women as possible have access to the health services that they need,” Ratti said.
Nevada would join five other states in allowing doctors to prescribe 12-month supplies of birth control under Senate Bill 233 and Assembly Bill 249. And both bills would require health insurance to cover voluntary sterilization procedures — vasectomies for men and tubal ligation for women.
Additionally, Ratti’s bill would make insurance, including Medicaid, cover prenatal tests; screenings for diabetes, blood pressure abnormalities and depression; all federally recommended vaccinations; and counseling for breastfeeding, domestic violence and sexually transmitted diseases.
Pap smears and mammograms already must be covered under Obama’s health care law. Ratti’s bill would mandate that, should the health law be changed, insurance companies still could not charge for those services. In part, the bill reflects the majority party’s effort to enshrine the Affordable Care Act in state law.
Legislative analysts have not yet published the estimated state costs of SB233 and AB249.
All 38 Democratic lawmakers have signed on to co-sponsor the bills, both of which are scheduled for Monday hearings in their respective houses.
“This upcoming week, we’re going to continue to roll out some bills that reflect our values and the things and principles that we say we stood for,” Frierson told reporters.
Other bills up for consideration this week include a plan for the state to solicit donations and federal grants to help low-income Nevadans access birth control, STD and pregnancy testing and information on preparing for a baby. The state would distribute that money to local governments or nonprofit organizations like Planned Parenthood to fund contraception and other “family planning” services.
Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, will present Senate Bill 122 at a hearing Wednesday.