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White House contraceptive coverage plan faces opposition

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Feb. 11, 2013

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A proposal from the Dept. of Health and Human Services for health plans to provide free contraceptives to women while attempting to respect the views of religious organizations did not go far enough to address the perspective of secular for-profit employers, some groups said.

Under a mandate of the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans now cover contraception without any cost-sharing provisions, although some nonprofit religious hospitals and institutions of higher education object to the use of contraception due to religious beliefs. In its proposed new rule, HHS said these types of organizations would not have to arrange, pay for, refer for or contract for any contraceptive coverage they found objectionable. It also expands the list of “religious employers” to which this new policy would apply.

Instead, women would be able to receive coverage for such preventive services through separate individual health insurance policies without co-pays. HHS projects that the added costs to both insurers and third-party administrators would be offset by several factors, one of which is fewer childbirths that will result from more women having access to contraceptives.

But the conservative American Center for Law and Justice said the attempt at compromise falls short. It doesn’t apply to for-profit secular businesses that object to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, the center said in a statement. The center has filed several lawsuits on behalf of for-profit companies that are challenging the ACA’s contraceptive mandate on religious grounds.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, appeared confident that the courts would overturn the policy. “Unfortunately, this White House doesn’t seem to believe in that constitutional guarantee — forcing private companies to provide health care services in violation of their beliefs.” In particular, this violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he said.

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