By Jenny Gold
KHN Staff Writer
After a year of lawsuits and public outcry, the Obama administration proposed Friday a way for women who work at nonprofit religious institutions to get free birth control without requiring their employers to pay for it.
Instead, institutions that insure themselves, such as hospitals and universities, could use a third party to find a separate health policy that would pay for and provide the coverage.
The costs would be offset by the fees insurers will pay to participate in the new online health marketplaces set to open in October under the health law.
The proposed rule is aimed mainly at groups affiliated with churches, such as hospitals and educational institutions, and appears to exclude private businesses, which have brought many of the lawsuits over the health law’s contraceptive mandate.
“Today, the administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a press release. “We will continue to work with faith-based organizations, women’s organizations, insurers and others to achieve these goals.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that the organization welcomes “the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”
A similar statement was issued by the Catholic Health Association, which includes more than 1,000 health groups affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.
The mandate to cover contraceptive care has inspired at least 44 lawsuits against the government, according to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a legal organization fighting the mandate.
Here’s the way the proposed rule would work:
Religious organizations that self-insure, as well as student health plans, would let their third party administrator know that they object to providing contraceptive coverage on moral grounds.The administrator would then work with a health insurer to provide separate individual contraception coverage at no cost to the enrollees. The cost would be “offset by adjustments in federally-facilitated exchange user fees that insurers pay.”
Nothing would change for a religious organization that offers a group plan: Under the compromise offered by the administration last February, the insurer would provide separate contraception coverage at no cost to participants. The administration argues that such services would be cost-neutral to the insurer because they would result in fewer births.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, praised the proposal.
“Today’s draft regulation affirms yet again the Obama administration’s commitment to fulfilling the full promise of its historic contraception policy,” said Hogue. “Thanks to this commitment, most American women will get birth-control coverage without extra expense.”
Under the health law, employers who insure their workers are required to cover government-recommended preventive services without co-payments. In August 2011, the Obama administration said those would include contraceptive services, such as birth control pills, implants and sterilization procedures.
Religious organizations opposed to birth control sought to be exempt The Obama administration initially gave them a one-year delay, until August of this year, to comply, while promising further compromise.
This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.