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Senate Health Committee chair dismayed by ruling: “There is a greater public health need here”

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Joseph Vitale was dismayed by the Supreme Court ruling.
Joseph Vitale was dismayed by the Supreme Court ruling. - ()

State Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D-Woodbridge), the chair of the Senate Health Committee, was dismayed by the Supreme Court ruling Monday that some privately owned business could opt out of providing contraception services.

The ruling, based on religious reasons, came in a 5-4 decision in the Hobby Lobby case, the latest case involving the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Vitale, who has long advocated for women's reproductive health care, said the law is more about health than religion.

"There is a greater public health need here," he said. "Not all contraception is used for birth control, it is also used for other medical problems that women have."

Vitale said it’s unclear how the decision will impact the state law requiring health insurers to cover contraception. To his knowledge, providing coverage for contraception has not been a major issue for employers.

RELATED: Jerseyans react after Supreme Court sides with Hobby Lobby, saying private businesses do not have to offer contraception services

"Most New Jersey employers want their female employees to be cared for,” he said. “And if an employer were to opt out in New Jersey, it would certainly make for unhappy employees who would have to pay out of pocket for contraception."

Vitale said he wasn’t aware of any New Jersey employers that want to stop providing contraception: “But there may be some and I'm sure we will find out."

Vitale said if employers decide to opt out, the employee might have to either buy separate health insurance to cover contraception, or pay cash for contraceptives.

"That would be the added burden and the added cost for the individual," he said. "This affects women across the board."

RELATED: Expert: Hobby Lobby ruling reveals bigger issue of Affordable Care Act implementation

Vitale said if women are required to pay for contraceptive drugs and devices it will become a cost issue.

"If the employer opts out of the contraceptive element of their plan, then they have to pay cash for it, and it gets expensive,” he said. “And that shouldn't be."

Vitale pointed out that several years ago the state enacted legislation he sponsored to enable faith-based organization to opt out of paying for contraceptives for employees, who would instead get them from their health plan without involving the faith-based employer.  He said he doesn't know if the Supreme Court decision will impact that law.

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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