Tuesday, Feb. 16, 1999 | 11:32 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- Landra Reid, wife of Sen. Harry Reid, made one of her rare appearances to testify before the Nevada Legislature and Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus tangled with a Catholic priest as debate started Monday on bills to require insurance plans to pay for prescription contraceptives and devices.
A crowd estimated at more than 70 people packed the hearing rooms for testimony before the Senate Government Affairs Committee and the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee. No action was taken on the bills.
Reid praised Titus and Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, both Las Vegas Democrats, for introducing their bills. She told the Assembly committee that "The health industry has done a poor job of responding to women's health needs.
"Women spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket costs for health care than men. Reproductive health care services account for much of this difference," she said. "If men had to pay for contraceptive drugs and devices, the insurance industry would cover them."
Titus' Senate Bill 28 would require the insurance plan for state workers to extend its coverage to include not only oral contraceptives, which it covers now, but other forms of birth control, such as Norplant implants, Depo Provera hormone shots, interuterine devices and diaphragms. Giunchigliani's legislation, Assembly Bill 60, would require coverage in private insurance plans and health maintenance organizations.
The Rev. Tom Cronin, director of Life Ministries for the Catholic Diocese, opposed the Titus bill, saying it was "mandating a form of abortion coverage." He said it would allow the 'morning-after pill" to be covered by the state's policies.
In addition, he said, it requires taxpayers to pay for something they may not approve of. And there is nothing in the bill to allow people in the insurance plan to opt out of paying for coverage they don't want.
Titus said the state policy already covers oral contraceptives and she wondered why the priest was protesting now. "Nobody was outraged before," she said. Cronin replied the bill mandates coverage and includes the "morning-after" pill, which the church considers a form of abortion.
Titus said she was "shocked" that the priest came to testify when the state's policy already covered one contraceptive prescription.
Giunchigliani said her bill was not about abortion. It was about gender bias in insurance polices. If passed, she said, the bill would reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions, and called lack of coverage "one more injustice" against women.
Lining up in support of the bills were such organizations as the Nevada Women's Lobby, Nevada Nurses Association, the Lutheran Advisory Group, the Progressive Leadership Alliance, the Nevada State Employees Association, the Nevada Association of Social Workers and Planned Parenthood.
Besides the Catholic Church, other groups opposed included Nevada Families Eagle Forum and Nevada Right to Life.
Marie Soldo, representing Health Plan of Nevada and the Nevada Association of Health Plans, said requiring coverage called for in Giunchigliani's bill would increase policy costs by 6 percent a year. That comes to about $120 for a single person and $300 for a family, she said.
Fred Hillerby, representing Nevada's HMOs, said all but one already provide contraception coverage. But not all provide a wide options as called for in the legislation. This legislation, he said would affect only 30 percent of those covered. "It does not have wide breath and scope."
Mrs. Reid said 60 percent of the 3.6 million pregnancies in the nation are unintended. Of these unintended, 44 percent end in abortion.
"Reliable family planning methods must be made available if we wish to reduce this disturbing number," she said.
Pat Glenn, president of Nevada Right to Life, said these bills were sponsored by the pro-abortion lobby. She said it would force taxpayers to share the cost if Medicaid were required to provide the contraceptives. Medicaid is the federal-state program for medical care for the needy.
"The (state) Department of Human Resources would become the agent for pro-abotion," Glenn said. "It would mandate tax payments to Planned Parenthood."