AIA Advocacy Report
by Robert A. Spolzino, Esq., AIA Legislative Counsel
DISAPPOINTED, YES. DEFEATED, NO!
Disappointed is not a strong enough word for how we felt at two o'clock in the morning on June 23rd, when the New York State Senate adjourned without passing an infertility insurance bill that the Assembly could agree on. Although infertility insurance was a hot topic for the last two weeks of the session, and we were told that significant negotiations on our issue, involving Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Governor George Pataki, were going on until two hours before the Senate adjourned, no agreement was reached before the Senate left for, possibly, the rest of the year.
The stumbling block continues to be the religious exemption clause, the same issue that has divided the two houses of the legislature since February, when both passed different versions of the legislation. Basically, the Senate supports the position of the New York State Catholic Conference that the Catholic Church and similar religious entities should not be required to provide insurance for procedures, such as in vitro fertilization, that they find to be morally objectionable. The Assembly refuses to pass a bill that contains such an exemption, taking the position that the insurance is provided for individuals who may or may not share the entity's moral beliefs, but should not be excluded from insurance for their disease. The result is an impasse that has thus far prevented the adoption of an infertility insurance law in New York this year.
AIA's goal throughout this debate has been to work toward the adoption of any bill that both houses can agree on, whether it contains a religious exemption clause or not. The reason for this approach is simple. Since even the broadest conscience clause that has been discussed would apply only to employees of religious entities and those who are insured by religiously-affiliated insurers, the number of infertile couples that would be excluded from coverage by a religious exemption is far smaller than the number of couples that are currently unable to obtain insurance without the legislation. As a result, AIA has taken the position that either version of the bill would be acceptable, since it would provide substantial benefits to many infertile couples who currently have no insurance.
The unfortunate result of this whole debate, however, is that it has not been beneficial to any of the parties who have worked seriously and hard to solve the problem. The infertile community has been denied legislation that all sides otherwise recognize is necessary. The Catholic Conference has been forced into an unfortunate dispute with the Orthodox Jewish organizations that have supported our effort, organizations with which the Catholic Conference generally agrees more than it disagrees. The Senate and the Assembly have been frustrated in resolving an issue that both sides say they want to resolve. The only winner in all of this has been the health insurers and HMO's, who once again are able to avoid providing the benefits they should be providing for the disease of infertility.
Despite our frustrations, however, we should not fail to recognize how far we have come since this effort began. A year and a half ago, the New York State Legislature was not even talking about legislation to require infertility insurance coverage. Today, the Senate and the Assembly agree that infertility insurance legislation is required. Although they can't yet agree on the specific terms of that legislation, they were talking about it in the last few moments of this year's legislative session.
Our goal now is to get the Senate and the Assembly to continue to talk about the need for infertility insurance and to take up the issue as soon as they reconvene - whether that is in September, December or January. Our plan is to keep the parties talking until an acceptable compromise is reached. We cannot let the insurance companies and HMO's continue to be the only winners.