The National Women's Law Center filed complaints Tuesday against several businesses and universities, including some in Pennsylvania, claiming the institutions failed to offer pregnancy coverage to their employees' dependent children in violation of federal law.
The center contends the five institutions are ignoring a provision of the federal Affordable Care Act prohibiting sex discrimination in health care programs that receive federal funds and discriminating against pregnant women on the basis of sex.
"This affects young women who are on their parents' plans; they are being discriminated against," said Sharon Levin said, director of federal reproductive health policies at the center. "Those medical costs are substantial."
The complaints were filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Office for Civil Rights, which the center says has the authority to investigate potential violations of the law.
The institutions are the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, in Harrisburg, Pa.; Battelle Memorial Institute, in Columbus, Ohio; Beacon Health System, in South Bend, Ind.; Auburn University, in Auburn, Ala.; and Gonzaga University, in Spokane, Wash.
The center chose the companies representing different industries and different parts of the country in the hope that if they're ordered to comply, many other companies will follow suit on their own, Levin said.
The organization believes its complaints to be the first to challenge dependent pregnancy coverage exclusions under the federal law. The federal Affordable Care Act allows adult children up to age 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance.
Excluding maternity coverage for female dependent children of employees means young women on their parents' plans receive less comprehensive benefits than those provided to young men, Judy Waxman, the center's vice president for health and reproductive rights, said in a written statement.
The center anticipates that the Office for Civil Rights will investigate the claims and reach an agreement with the companies, Levin said.
A message seeking comment from the federal agency wasn't immediately returned Tuesday.
Representatives for Battelle and Auburn University declined to comment immediately on the complaint.
Maggie Scroope, a spokeswoman for Beacon Health, said that she had not seen any details of the complaint but that the "coverage we offer our associates follows standard health plan design and complies with state and federal laws" as required for ERISA (Employment Retirement Income Security Act) plans, she said in a written statement.
ERISA sets minimum standards for pension plans in private industries.
All Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education health care plans provide maternity coverage to covered employees, spouses and domestic partners, according to spokesman Kenn Marshall. He said in a written statement that employees may choose among several plans, with some providing full maternity coverage to covered dependent daughters and one providing coverage to dependent daughters for some prenatal care and testing and procedures required as a result of complications resulting from pregnancy.
"During our recent procurement for a new healthcare plan, we required the assurance that the plan would be in compliance with the healthcare act," Marshall said.
Gonzaga University spokeswoman Mary Joan Hahn said the school believes its health benefits plan comply with the law.
"Gonzaga University is committed to providing comprehensive and appropriate health care benefits for employees, including maternity benefits," she said in an email.