Obama unveils compromise on health reform contraception rule

The Obama administration released a compromise plan February 1 on how contraception is covered under the healthcare reform law, but it’s not clear whether foes of the original requirement will approve.

Under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, contraception is included as a free preventive service. The original rule exempted religious groups that employ mostly people of their own faith, but groups such as religious universities and Catholic hospitals weren’t included in the exemption.

The Obama administration said that the proposed rule announced February 1 would “build on the ideas we laid out last year to provide women with coverage for recommended preventive care, including contraceptive services, without cost sharing, while also ensuring that nonprofit organizations with religious objections won’t have to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for insurance coverage for these services to their employees or students.”

The administration is seeking comment on the proposal through April 8.

A fact sheet on the administration’s proposed rule states that the rule “would simplify the existing definition of a ‘religious employer’ as it relates to contraceptive coverage.” The fact sheet says that under the proposed rule, an eligible organization would be one that:

  • Opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services required to be covered under the health reform law on account of religious objections;
  • Is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity;
  • Holds itself out as a religious organization; and
  • Self-certifies that it meets these criteria and specifies the contraceptive services for which it objects to providing coverage.

Under the proposal, employees of such organizations would receive contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies without cost sharing or additional premiums, according to the fact sheet.

One group opposing the original contraceptive requirement, the Catholic Health Association, didn’t immediately say whether the new proposal meets the group’s concerns. But Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the association, released a statement saying:

Following last year’s proposed rule, the Catholic Health Association had asked during the comment period for some changes in the contraceptive coverage section of the rule on preventive services. Now that a new proposed rule has been released for review and comment, we look forward to studying it in relation to our members’ expressed concerns and sharing our assessment of the changes.