Health Care Reform, Women’s Preventative Services, and Religious Institutions

Feb 23

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2/23/2012 8:57 AM  RssIcon

Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a statement indicating that nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide first dollar contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plan, have until August 1, 2013 to comply with the rule. Some expected that such employers would be completely exempt from the rule because churches and other houses of worship are exempt. Since the statement was released, all sides have weighed in and tensions surrounding the issue are escalating.

In August of 2011, HHS issued an interim final rule, stemming from Health Care Reform, requiring most health insurance plans to cover preventative services for women, including FDA-approved contraceptives like the birth control pill and morning-after pill, without charging a co-pay, co-insurance or a deductible, effective August 1, 2012. In order to be exempt from the rule concerning contraceptives, an organization must serve primarily persons who share its religious tenets. After evaluating comments, HHS’ recent statement explained its intent to grant a one year extension (not a complete exemption) for nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs (e.g. Catholic hospitals and schools), do not cover contraceptives in the health insurance plan maintained for employees.

The Roman Catholic Church, who opposes the use of contraception, has signaled that it is intent on resisting the new policy. Additionally, Republican presidential candidates have denounced the new rule in recent weeks, claiming an assault on religion.

The administration has cited evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and families and is documented to reduce health costs. The administration believes that the rule strikes the appropriate balance between religious freedom and increasing access to preventative services. After all, the rule doesn’t require women to use or buy contraceptives, but rather, requires that their insurer cover contraceptives at first dollar if women choose to use or buy them.

At first, the administration stood firmly by its decision citing the right of all women to have the same access to preventative services, but recent comments from White House press secretary indicate that the president might be open to compromise.

HHS Secretary Sebelius’s January 20, 2012 statement is available at:

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