January 20th, 2012
05:19 PM ET
The Obama Administration is standing by a decision to require all insurance plans to cover the use of contraceptives, but said Friday it would give some employers an additional year to comply.
The rule, which goes into effect August 1, 2012, requires all insurance plans to cover the cost of birth control. Many non-profits with religious affiliations, such as Catholic universities and hospitals, say that will force them to violate their basic tenets.
The Department of Health and Services announced Friday those employers would have until August 1, 2013, to meet the new requirement.
“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said a statement from Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). “The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs.”
The USCCB also sent a statement from Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, who chairs a system with 13 Catholic Hospitals.
“I have hundreds of employees who will be upset and confused by this edict. I cannot understand it at all.”
In sharp contrast, Planned Parenthood called it “great news” in a post on the organization’s Facebook page.
“President Barack Obama did the right thing by protecting birth control coverage for millions, despite incredible pressure from anti-women’s health groups and legislators.”
Birth control is the most common type of medication taken by young and middle-aged women. Women’s health advocates said the new rules would affect millions of women. Currently, 32 states require insurance plans to cover contraceptives, but 16 of them provide a “conscience exception” for religious employers, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the decision was made “after careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”
Sebelius said, “We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.”
That was shrugged off by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), who criticized the rule at a congressional hearing in November. Pitts told CNN via email that Friday’s announcement is a cynical ploy to delay a controversial move until after the presidential elections.
“What does a one-year delay accomplish? Does HHS expect religious employers to discard their moral and religious beliefs?”
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), an OB-GYN, said there could be high, unforeseen costs to the new rule.
“We just don’t know what’s going to be required,” Burgess told CNN. “If contraceptive coverage means you have to cover 135 micrograms of generic, that’s one thing. If you have to cover any FDA-approved contraceptive, up to $100 a pack, that obviously makes a difference.”
He continued, “You have to believe this is going to drive up the cost of insurance, and on the employer side, some people are going to wonder if they should provide insurance any longer, or just pay the fines [imposed by the Affordable Care Act on larger employers who don’t offer insurance].”
Dori Salcido, a spokeswoman for HHS, said details aren't specified but that "We expect plans will utilize reasonable medical management techniques to help control cost," for example by steering patients towards generic birth-control pills.
The new rule is tied to the Affordable Care Act - “Obamacare” - which requires HHS to develop basic requirements for all insurance plans. Contraceptive coverage is one of several services that must be covered without co-pays or deductibles. Other such services are annual checkups, mammograms, testing for HIV and breastfeeding support.
The rule will not apply to women who work directly for a house of worship, such as a church, mosque or parochial school. According to HHS, such employers will have to provide notice to employees, about where contraceptive services are available.
HHS also said the rule won’t affect existing conscience laws, which allow doctors and hospitals to avoid providing services – such as birth control – that violate their religious beliefs.
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