OSF HealthCare’s insurance policy bars its LGBTQ employees from fertility treatment coverage.
That’s according to a new report by Bloomberg Law. Reporter Shira Stein told WCBU that while most health plans use the CDC’s definition of infertility, OSF’s stated policy covers fertility treatments only for married, opposite-sex couples.
Stein said while neither federal nor state discrimination laws consider married people a protected class, sexual orientation is protected.
But she said religious employers also get some leeway with their policies as it pertains to their beliefs, adding an element of legal uncertainty. OSF HealthCare is led by the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, a Catholic religious order in Peoria.
Stein spoke to nearly a dozen attorneys for her story.
“Every single one that I spoke to was shocked, and had never heard of a health plan so explicitly saying we will only cover the service for heterosexual individuals,” said Stein.
In a statement, OSF HealthCare spokesperson Shelli Dankoff defended the policy. She said the Peoria-based health care organization aligns its employee benefits with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The employee benefits we provide are driven by the OSF Mission and are in full compliance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services as well as state and federal laws, including the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act,” Dankoff said.
OSF HealthCare employs more than 24,000 people in Illinois and Michigan. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois administers OSF’s employee health care plan.
Camilla Taylor, the director of constitutional litigation for the LGBT law group Lambda Legal, said OSF’s policy deviates from the norm.
“It’s unusually explicit” in how the policy specifically excludes same-sex couples, Taylor said.
Taylor said most employers updated their benefits packages to treat same sex couples equally following the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
But the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom defended OSF HealthCare’s policy.
“The government cannot force religious health care providers to violate their beliefs,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel for ADF, in a statement. “Even if government officials disagree with the beliefs of a Catholic health care entity, the organization still has the freedom to provide insurance policies and health care services consistent with its convictions.”
But Taylor said OSF’s policy amounts to “pure discrimination.” She suggested an employee denied fertility treatment coverage granted to an opposite-sex couple would have grounds to sue under the Illinois Human Rights Act.