Obama Health Care Compromise Allows Religious Groups to Avoid Birth Control

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The Obama administration yesterday released more details of a compromise that allows women to receive free birth control under the health care  reform law, while providing a way for religious-affiliated organizations to avoid paying for the coverage.

The compromise was lauded by many women’s rights groups, liberal religious organizations and The New York Times editorial board, who all commended the administration for finding a middle ground.

“Today’s draft regulation affirms yet again the Obama administration’s commitment to fulfilling the full promise of its historic contraception policy,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said. “Thanks to this commitment, most American women will get birth-control coverage without extra expense. Increased access to birth control is a huge win for women.”

The administration had been inundated by lawsuits from religious organizations objecting to the section of the 2010 Affordable Care Act that requires businesses to cover employees’ birth control costs as part of their insurance plans. The law mandates coverage for such birth control measures as sterilization and emergency contraception pills, or so-called “day-after” pills.

In response to that section of the law, a slew of lawsuits were filed by religious organizations and private businesses with moral objections, making it all but certain the matter would wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Though the new compromise was widely praised, there were still religious groups who were unsatisfied, meaning the administration probably hasn’t dodged the legal challenges just yet.

The compromise now provides guidance for large religiously-affiliated institutions that self-insure or pay their own medical costs, rather than buy insurance coverage.

The administration will allow these institutions to notify the companies that administer their plans that they will not cover contraceptives, and those companies would then look for a health insurer to offer separate individual contraceptive coverage at no cost to the women. The insurers that create these plans for self-insured companies will then get a discount on the fees charged by the administration to sell plans on the new health exchanges.

“We were extremely disappointed with this inadequate proposal,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. His group represents both private employers and faith-based nonprofits. “This is not what many of our clients were hoping and praying for: That they would be given a way of not being subject to the mandate at all.”

“The Obama administration has proposed a sensible way to provide women who work for religiously affiliated institutions with free coverage of contraceptives while exempting the organizations they work for from financial or administrative obligations to provide the coverage,” The New York Times wrote on its editorial page.

 

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