Health Day - ONLINE EDITION

White House Unveils Final Plan on Coverage for Contraception

Responsibility shifts from religious employer to insurance companies

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FRIDAY, June 28 (HealthDay News) -- The Obama administration on Friday issued what it called final rules that let religious organizations opt out of providing contraception coverage in their health insurance plans, as mandated by the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The White House said employers at non-profit religious organizations such as houses of worship, hospitals and universities won't have to offer free access to birth control, but their insurance companies will be made directly responsible for doing so.

Women who request birth control will be able to get it free of co-pays or premiums, as required by the Affordable Care Act. But non-profit religious organizations can refuse to cover birth control, leaving the woman's insurance company with the responsibility of coverage.

"The health care law helps ensure that millions of women have coverage for critical preventive services without cost sharing," Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, deputy director of policy and regulation at the Center for Consumer Information, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said during an afternoon news conference.

These services include contraception "because there are tremendous health benefits for women that come from using contraception," she said.

Friday's revised rules are similar to earlier proposed rules, in which houses of worship such as churches can exclude contraceptive coverage from their health plans for their employees and their dependents.

"Today's announcement reinforces our commitment to respect the concerns of houses of worship and other non-profit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage, while helping to ensure that women get the care they need, regardless of where they work," Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

The revised rule, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2014, follows more than a year of protests and legal action from Roman Catholics, conservative Protestants and many employers who maintain that the contraception provision in the Affordable Care Act -- the Obama administration's sweeping 2010 health reform law -- violates their religious beliefs on birth control.

It's not clear if Friday's announcement will satisfy opponents of the contraception provision.

On Thursday, a federal appeals court in Denver ruled that Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts chain, can proceed with its challenge to the birth-control mandate and won't be subject to fines.

The changes offered Friday appear to be the Obama administration's attempt to satisfy both sides on the issue -- religious leaders who object to providing contraception to employees, and those who wish to see that all women retain free access to birth control.

The White House first found itself embroiled in a political fight with Catholic Church officials after a Jan. 20, 2012, announcement that all religious-affiliated employers, with the exception of churches and other houses of worship, would have to cover free birth control as part of routine preventive care for women. These institutions were given until August 2013 to comply with the rule.

More information

For more on birth control, visit the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

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