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There Should Be A Law Against That. . . And Now, There Is! Federal Law (Finally!) Prohibits Sex Discrimination in Health Care

Did you know that until 2010, no federal law provided protection against sex discrimination in health care? What?!

Section 1557 is an antidiscrimination provision in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that includes the first federal protection against sex discrimination in health care. For those familiar with Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs, Section 1557 is like a Title IX for health care.  

And, today, the NWLC filed the first set of complaints under Section 1557 addressing a major issue for young women – the fact that they often don’t get maternity coverage if they are on their parents’ health insurance plan. NWLC filed complaints with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) against five institutions whose health plans do not provide pregnancy benefits to the dependent children of employees. Because the institutions receive federal funds, they cannot discriminate against any individual participating in any of their health programs, including their employee health plans.

As the NWLC complaints make clear, federal law has long held that treating pregnancy differently than other conditions is sex-based discrimination. Section 1557, which protects individuals who participate in health programs like health insurance plans from sex discrimination, requires that the plan treat pregnancy as it treats other conditions. The institutions against whom NWLC filed complaints fail to do this. These institutions provide insurance to employees’ dependent children—but treat pregnancy coverage differently than coverage for other conditions by completely excluding it. Without insurance coverage for pregnancy, young women face paying thousands of dollars [PDF] up front for an uncomplicated pregnancy. Moreover, the exclusion is, quite simply, sex discrimination.

NWLC’s complaints ask the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the complaints and secure an assurance that the institutions will stop discriminating in their health care coverage. We’re confident OCR will move quickly to do so.