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Minnesota DFLers plan response to Hobby Lobby ruling

DULUTH — Minnesota DFLers unveiled plans Wednesday to introduce a bill that would require most employers’ insurance plans to pick up the tab for employees’ birth control.

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During a visit to Duluth on Wednesday afternoon, House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, laid out what she calls the Contraceptive Health Equity and Employee Rights Act, or CHEER for short.

She framed the legislation as a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 Hobby Lobby decision, in which the court ruled that closely held corporations with religious objections to contraception could not be compelled to provide birth control under the Affordable Care Act.

“We don’t think that big corporate employers should be able to insert themselves and their religious beliefs into the decisions of a woman’s health care,” Murphy said.

“I’ve been hearing, since the decision, from women and men all over the state with concerns about what it means in terms of their family, their health care, their pocketbook and their future.”

“I think it’s important that we talk about this now so that Minnesotans know there is a remedy on the way and what’s at stake, so that they can factor that in as we’re going into an election,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s bill, which couldn’t be taken up until the 2015 legislative session, would require employers that provide prescription drug benefits to also cover any contraceptive approved by the Food and Drug Administration. If the bill becomes law, qualifying full-time workers would be provided access contraception with no co-pays.

Already, 28 states have similar mandates on their books.

The policy would offer a couple of significant exemptions for religious nonprofit organizations and self-insured employers.

But, Murphy said, women could have recourse to go after even self-insured corporate employers who seek to deny contraceptive coverage.

“If you are a for-profit corporation choosing to use the Hobby Lobby decision to deny other services, you must disclose that to potential employees upon hire so they know what they may or may not have in terms of a benefit,” she said. “And we also want to make sure that we’re using the Human Rights Act to say that if you choose to discriminate against women, in terms of the provisions of employer-based coverage, that would be actionable.”

Murphy noted that the measure has to do with more than just birth control.

“The majority of Minnesota women use contraception at some point in their life. Sixty percent or more of them use it for reasons in addition to family planning. So they use it for migraines, for ovarian cysts, for hormone replacement after chemotherapy. There are all sorts of medical conditions for which contraception is a remedy,” she said.

“We don’t think employers should be making a decision about whether women should have access to that. We think that decision should rest with women and their health care providers, and we should make sure contraception is affordable and accessible. And that’s the point of the bill.”

Jennifer Schultz, a University of Minnesota Duluth economics professor running to succeed Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, who has announced he will not seek re-election, praised Murphy and her peers.

“I’m glad Minnesota is stepping forward and doing something immediately. It’s nice that we have strong legislators who are DFLers and who believe what the Supreme Court did was unjust,” Schultz said.

“Corporations should not have their own religious beliefs. ... There’s a reason we have separation between church and state, and I think the Supreme Court has overstepped its authority,” she said.