On Feb. 10, 2012, the White House announced that an adjustment will be made to implementing Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations on the politically sensitive mandate that employers—including religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations—cover birth control and related services at no cost to employees.
Under the revised policy, which the White House termed an “accommodation,” religiously affiliated nonprofit employers such as schools, charities, universities and hospitals will be able to provide their workers with plans that exclude contraceptive coverage. However, the insurance companies that provide the plans will have to offer those workers the opportunity to obtain additional contraceptive coverage, including the so-called “morning after” pill and sterilization procedures, directly at no additional charge to the employees.
It was unclear whether the proposed accommodation might result in indirect payment for these services by employers through higher premiums. Moreover, issues that remained unresolved pending further details and guidance include how the accommodation might apply to religiously affiliated institutions that self-fund group health coverage for their employees.
President States Position; Bishops Respond
“Neither cost nor employer should dictate a woman’s ability to make choices about her own health,” according to the White House announcement. At a news conference President Barack Obama stated, “No woman’s health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes. Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health. Period.”
Cardinal-Designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), released an initial response to Obama’s announcement that said, “The past three weeks have witnessed a remarkable unity of Americans from all religions or none at all worried about the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion into issues of faith and morals. Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction. We hope to work with the administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”
However a follow-up statement by the USCCB, released late on Feb. 10, took a harder line, declaring that “the only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”
The USCCB noted that the proposed accommodation “would still mandate that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write. At this point, it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, and religious insurance companies, are not exempt from this mandate.”
Nevertheless, the White House indicated it does not intend to make any more changes to the rule. “We put out the plan that reflects where the president intended to go. This is our plan,” said White House chief of staff Jacob Lew on Feb. 12.
Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Obama Administration Affirms, then Adjusts, Contraceptive Mandate, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, February 2012
New Plans Required to Cover Birth Control with No Cost-Sharing, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, August 2011
SHRM Online Benefits Discipline
SHRM Online Health Care Reform Resource Page