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California sees limited change for workers after birth-control ruling

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California law limits scope of Supreme Court ruling on birth-control coverage

State insurance officials predict that only a modest number of Californians will be affected by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on birth-control coverage because of state law and other factors.

In a 5-4 decision Monday, the Supreme Court said business owners with religious objections to certain forms of birth control can refuse to offer coverage for contraceptives.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones criticized the ruling and said "employees whose insurance is regulated in California have some protection from this damaging decision."

State law "will continue to ensure that most women have health insurance coverage for a full range of contraceptive options," Jones added.

California, like 27 other states, requires small and large employers offering prescription drug coverage to also include birth control.

But companies that self-insure for health coverage and pay their own medical claims are exempt from the California law, as are nonprofit religious employers.

Many large and mid-sized firms are self-insured. Nationwide, 61% of insured workers were in a self-funded plan last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

However, state officials say they're confident most self-insured employers will continue to offer birth control in their health plans because they have done so for years, long before the health law's mandate went into effect.

Other legal experts agreed that only a small number of firms may try to use Monday's court ruling.

"Those state laws work to limit the scope of this decision," said Tim Goodman, a partner at the Dorsey & Whitney law firm in Minneapolis who specializes in employer health insurance issues.

Beyond state rules, business owners must also weigh several other factors before citing a religious objection to offering contraceptive benefits, Goodman said.

A business owner may want to examine the possible reaction they could get from employees and customers as well as the potential for litigation over the matter.

"In my mind, it's probably more rare that employers try to utilize this decision," Goodman said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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