Starting in Jan. 2018, breast pumps will be covered by the insurance plans offered to University of Arizona employees. The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences advocated for this important policy change and will continue to lobby for policies that help our faculty and staff.
When Samara Klar, assistant professor in the School of Government and Public Policy, was about to have her baby, she was surprised to learn that her UA health insurance did not appear to cover breast pumps. Most of her non-UA colleagues had received breast pumps from their insurance, and Klar knew coverage of the pumps was mandated through the Affordable Care Act. She contacted the dean’s office in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences in case there was an HR benefit regarding breast pumps that she could not find online.
Monica Casper, the associate dean for faculty affairs and inclusion for the college, and Mika Galilee-Belfer, director of strategic planning and special projects, asked around and were disappointed to learn that Klar was correct. Because the health insurance plan offered to UA employees through the Arizona Department of Administration was considered “grandfathered,” it was not required under ACA to cover breast pumps.
In response, Casper and the dean of SBS, John Paul Jones III, decided to buy a breast pump for the college that could be used by nursing faculty and staff. Because UA funds could not be used, they personally split the cost of the pump and loaned it to Klar.
When Jennifer Cyr, assistant professor in the School of Government and Public Policy, asked about using the pump this year, Klar still needed it as she was expecting her second child. This time, Jones purchased a second pump to loan to Cyr.
Casper and Jones were aware that they couldn’t buy breast pumps for everyone who may need one. But at the same time, doing nothing because they couldn’t meet everyone’s needs didn’t seem right either.
“Local solutions to state and national gaps are limited,” Casper said. “You can only do so much.”
Given the health benefits of breastfeeding for the baby and the mother – which is why pumps are considered preventive medical care – it was surprising that health insurance would not cover the cost.
“We live in a country that mandates a return to work sooner than any other industrial nation,” Casper said. “If you want to continue to breastfeed, you have to pump.”
For women who choose to and can breastfeed, the challenges of pumping at work can be daunting. Many women all over the country still have to pump in janitorial closets or on bathroom floors. They face the awkwardness of having to explain breaks in their schedule. Knowing they are supported by their employer is important to many nursing moms.
For Klar, this support is crucial in academia. She cites research demonstrating that having children, on average, tends to hurt women’s academic careers. Recent data show that married mothers of young kids are 35 percent less likely to get tenure-track jobs compared with married men of young kids, and these women are 33 percent less likely to secure tenure-track jobs compared with women who have no children.
“One step to eliminating this gender disparity is to make parenting resources more widely accessible,” Klar said.
The UA Division of Human Resources agreed and were working behind the scenes to convince the Arizona Department of Administration to cover breast pumps.
Their hard work payed off. Breast pumps will now be covered by the insurance plans effective Jan. 1, 2018. In addition, the plans will start covering breastfeeding support and counseling.
Helena Rodrigues, assistant vice president of Human Resources at the UA, is thankful to Casper and Galilee-Belfer for the feedback and information they have provided over the past few years on this topic. “The information strengthened our case to ADOA for plan changes,” Rodrigues said.
Casper is thrilled that UA healthcare plans now cover breast pumps and breastfeeding counseling and is grateful to UA Human Resources for providing a variety of valuable benefits to employees. Casper says that gaps in coverage remain, however, and she intends to continue advocating for changes such as coverage for fertility treatment, increased benefits for transgender care, and a childcare center. These are policy issues and, to Casper, issues of human rights and reproductive justice.
As dean, Jones said he is also committed to doing his part to create a family-friendly workplace for faculty and staff.
“I am pleased that breast pumps are now covered under our insurance plans and not just because I wasn’t sure how many more I could buy,” Jones said. “This benefit demonstrates our commitment to equity in the workplace. I’ll add that I am proud of Monica and Mika for providing information that helped bolster Human Resources’ case for this change.”
Klar and Cyr are thankful for the support shown by the SBS Dean’s Office.
“I am so grateful to Dean Jones and to Associate Dean Casper for their personal efforts to help correct for the lack of insurance coverage for breast pumps and to my own school for their constant efforts in helping their faculty transition to their new role as working parents.”
Cyr added, “As we metaphorically move mountains to meet this challenge of being successful ‘academia mamas,’ it is gratifying and vitally important to know that we have the support of the university administration.”