It has been a common practice for American employers to provide health care benefits to their employees and their families in order to attract employees into working in their company. However, as increases in healthcare costs continue, there has also been a reduction of the benefits being offered by employers. Some employers shifted the costs of securing health care benefits to their employees by increasing contributions while other employers opted to eliminate totally these health care benefits leaving the employees and their families uncovered and unprotected.
The federal government, for its part, has enacted several laws to safeguard the health welfare of the employees vis-à-vis their employers’ cost-cutting mechanisms. Some of these applicable laws include the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), Mental Health Parity Act (MPHA), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These legislations arguably has been said to be the leading cause of the increased in health care costs.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) which is a 1978 amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions in the workplace (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2004).
This prohibition against discrimination applies in all areas of employment such as hiring, firing, job security, and availment of fringe benefits. This Act mandates that pregnant women are to be treated in the same manner as those with similar limitations or disabilities. The law also provides that where an employee cannot perform her assigned task by reason of her pregnancy, the employer must extend to her special concessions such as providing modified tasks, alternative assignments or granting her the option to avail of maternity leave.
The health care insurance provided by employers must cover expenses for pregnancy related conditions. In addition, pregnancy related benefits apply not only to married employees but to all female in the workforce.
The Mental Health Parity Act (MPHA) provides parity between health insurance coverage of mental health benefits and medical/surgical services benefits. This law also gives employers the discretion to determine the extent and scope of mental health benefits that will be given to their workers and their families. The benefits do not however apply to substance abuse or chemical dependency.
MPHA does not apply to any health group plan or coverage where there are only 2 to 50 employees during the preceding calendar year or where the employer employs only at least 2 employees on the first day of the plan year. Neither will MPHA apply if applying the same will result in an increase of at least 1 percent in the cost under the health plan or group health insurance (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007).
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996 to regulate the rights and the protections of participants and beneficiaries in group health plans. In its Administrative Simplification provisions, the Department of Health and Human Services was required to establish national standards for electronic care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health plans, and employers (HIPAA, Title II). Under this provision, the security and privacy of health data is also addressed.
Title I of the Act protects the health insurance of workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs. It also regulates the allowable restrictions that a group health plan can place on benefits for preexisting conditions such that they may refuse to provide benefits to preexisting conditions for a period of 12 months after enrolment or 18 months in case of late enrolment (29 U.S.C. § 1181(a)(2)). Under this Title, individuals may reduce this exclusion period provided they had an existing health insurance prior to enrolling in the plan (29 U.S.C. § 1181(a)(3)).
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) took effect on July 1990 and is found in the United States Code sections 12101-12213. ADA is designed to prevent discrimination of individuals with disability in all areas of employment such as job application, hiring firing, training, pay, promotion, benefits and leave (U.S. Department of Justice, n.d.).
This Act covers those people with disability, those who have a history of disability, those who are regarded as disabled by others or those who encounter discrimination by reason of their relationship or association with people who have disability, such as parent of disabled children. People with mental disabilities as well as those suffering psychiatric impairments are also covered under this Act.
Under the Act, an employer cannot terminate the employment of an employee who is asserting his rights under the ADA. People with disabilities also have a right to request for reasonable accommodations with respect to the working conditions such as but not limited to: installation of ramps or modifying the workspace or restroom; employment of sign language interpreters for the benefit of employees who are deaf or blind; providing a quieter workspace or changes to reduce noise; and translating the training and other written materials in an accessible format such as in Braille or recording the same on computer disk (U.S. Department of Justice, n.d.).
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