First Complaints Filed Alleging Sex Discrimination in Health Care Coverage

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) has filed complaints with the Health and Human Services Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against five employers for discriminating based on sex in their health care plans in violation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The five employers, Beacon Health Systems, Auburn University, Battelle Memorial Institute, Gonzaga University, and the Pennsylvania State System of High Education, all have insurance policies excluding maternity coverage for female dependent children of their employees. The NWLC says that providing less favorable benefits to employees’ daughters compared to their sons is sex discrimination and violates the ACA.

The ACA is the first federal law prohibiting discrimination in health care programs that receive federal funds. It prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin, age, disability, gender identity, and sexual stereotypes. And, it requires plans to provide comprehensive coverage to women, including gynecological and maternity coverage. Complaints can be filed with the OCR, who will investigate and take appropriate action, or in federal court.

The NWLC complaints are the first received by OCR. The NWLC felt that the complaints were timely because, under the ACA, employers are now required to offer coverage to employees’ dependent children up to age 26, and many women under age 26 become pregnant each year.