Politics & Government

Veto targets free birth control for children in state health plan

Lawmakers now must decide whether the state health plan will pay for birth control for children of its members.

Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed a budget proposal to have the state health plan cover, in full, the cost of contraceptives for dependents of state employees and retirees in the health plan. The Richland Republican called it an $8 million-a-year unfunded mandate for the state health plan in his veto message to lawmakers.

Some S.C. lawmakers want to override that veto.

“I don’t know why we would want to penalize young women who happen to be the children of state employees,” said state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

The state health plan now covers free of charge all forms of prescription birth control – except emergency contraceptives – for employees and retirees in the plan and their spouses. That includes birth control pills, patches, and implants and devices, including intrauterine devices (IUDs).

But for employees’ dependents, the state health plan covers birth control only for medical reasons. Dependents are required to pay a copay —$9 for a generic brand, $38 for a preferred brand and $63 for a non-preferred brand.

The plan does not cover birth control for dependents to use to prevent pregnancy.

Last year, the state health plan provided some coverage for contraceptives for 7,185 dependents, according to Public Employee Benefit Authority. The agency estimates an additional 8,763 dependents would be covered if the plan paid for birth control as a contraceptive for dependents not only for use for medical reasons.

The change is estimated to cost $8 million to the state health plan, but law makers did not add any money to cover the state’s portion.

Sen. Hutto and other Democratic lawmakers pushing for an override to McMaster’s veto need two-thirds of both the S.C. House and Senate. But Republicans who control the House and Senate have not announced whether they plan to return to Columbia this summer to handle those vetoes, or wait until January.

State Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland, said she was “disappointed” in McMaster’s veto. She said she hopes House Republicans who supported allowing S.C. residents to obtain a 12-month supply of birth control will help override the governor’s veto. The 12-month proposal passed the House in April by a vote of 64-38. That plan is in the Senate and can be considered when lawmakers return in January.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope