Administration Officials Announce Birth Control Access “Compromise” for Religious Institutions

Senior Administration officials outlined the imminent compromise to be announced by President Obama, which follows the “Hawaii compromise” by mandating that insurance companies reach out directly to employees at religiously affiliated institutions and offer them contraceptive care. The officials described a process that “accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women.”

Under the new policy, the religious exemption remains largely the same for churches and religious non-profits. For religiously affiliated institutions, like Catholic hospitals and universities, “All women will still have access to free contraceptive care no matter where we work. That’s the core principle,” said the senior official. The insurance company will be required to “reach out directly and offer her contraceptive care free of charge. The religious institutions will not have to offer anything, and they will not pay for it.”

The White House did not necessarily check the policy with all stakeholders. The senior official said that “You’ll talk to people throughout the day and see what their response is.” The US Conference of Catholic Bishops seemed to escalate yesterday, and call for the end to any birth control mandate in insurance, even though this has been the law of the land for any company offering prescription drug plans for over 11 years. Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards, according to the senior officials, lauded the announcement of the compromise (UPDATE: Planned Parenthood’s statement says that “the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman’s ability to access… critical birth control benefits”), as well as selected Catholic leaders. But the bishops were not cited.

Senior officials cited statistics that 99% of all women rely on contraception at some point in their lives, and that half of women between 18-24 have trouble affording it. “Women deserve to have this preventive health care available and affordable,” added the senior official. “This allows those employees to have the same access as any other workers. But the institutions do not have to pay for it.” They characterized it as a “common sense solution.”

But it remains to be seen whether the compromise will take on this highly charged issue, and whether either side will find this acceptable.

…Sister Carol Keehan, the president of the Catholic Hospital Association, announced that she is “Very pleased” with the arrangement.

UPDATE: Here’s the info from the White House fact sheet:

The new policy ensures women can get contraception without paying a co-pay and addresses important concerns raised by religious groups by ensuring that objecting religious employers will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer women to organizations that provide contraception. Background on this policy is included below:

Section 2713 of the Affordable Care Act, the Administration adopted new guidelines that will require most private health plans to cover preventive services for women without charging a co-pay starting on August 1, 2012. These preventive services include well women visits, domestic violence screening, and contraception, and all were recommended to the Secretary of Health and Human Services by the independent Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science.

Today, the Obama Administration will publish final rules in the Federal Register that:

o Exempts churches, other houses of worship, and similar organizations from covering contraception on the basis of their religious objections.

o Establishes a one year transition period for religious organizations while this policy is being implemented.

The President will also announce that his Administration will propose and finalize a new regulation during this transition year to address the religious objections of the non-exempted religious organizations. The new regulation will require insurance companies to cover contraception if the non-exempted religious organization chooses not to. Under the policy:

o Religious organizations will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception.

o Religious organizations will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception.

o Contraception coverage will be offered to women by their employers’ insurance companies directly, with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception.

o Insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.

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