After weeks of uproar from Catholic bishops over the Obama administration’s rule that would require Catholic universities and hospitals to cover contraceptives in their health care plans, on Friday the White House announced an accommodation measure.
As originally stipulated by the Affordable Care Act, churches and organizations closely tied to a religious mission are exempt from providing insurance coverage that includes birth control. But large religiously affiliated institutions like hospitals, universities and charities, which rely heavily on federal money and hire people outside the faith, would be required to offer health insurance that covers contraception. Catholic leaders and politicians denounced the law as an attack on religious freedom.
In response to the outcry, President Obama announced a compromise that he believes will both protect religious beliefs and ensure that women have access to contraceptives. Moving forward, Catholic universities, hospitals and charities will be allowed to exclude contraception coverage from their employee insurance plans. But the insurance company (not the employer) will be required to reach out directly to those employees and offer contraception free of charge, without cost sharing.
As a White House fact sheet summarizes, under this policy:
* Religious organizations will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception.
* Religious organizations will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception.
* Contraception coverage will be offered to women by their employers’ insurance companies directly, with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception.
* Insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.
The Obama administration said that the rule does not present an issue of commingling funds between a Catholic employer that pays for insurance and an insurance company that provides free contraception independently. “We do think this a cost-neutral benefit,” said a senior administration official in a conference call, explaining that they drafted the rule with insurance experts and economists who found no extra charge for contraception. “The typical cost of a pregnancy is around $12,000, and that provides a whole lot of contraception if you’re preventing an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, in terms of the number of contraceptive services you can offer.”