Changes to Contraceptive Coverage Rules Draw Mixed Reaction
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Friday rejected the changes that President Obama made to the new federal contraceptive coverage rules and the group has pledged to continue pushing for a complete end to the policy, the Washington Post reports (Brown, Washington Post, 2/11).
Under the changes that Obama announced on Friday, religiously affiliated employers will not have to offer contraceptive coverage for their employees, but their health insurance companies will be required to provide the coverage directly to women at no charge.
The announcement followed intense criticism from the Catholic bishops that his administration was infringing on the religious freedom of church-affiliated institutions by not exempting them from offering contraceptive coverage (Ferraro, Reuters, 2/10).
In a statement issued on Friday, USCCB said the White House's solution is "unacceptable and must be corrected" because it still infringes on Catholics' rights of religious freedom and conscience (Goodstein, New York Times, 2/11).
USCCB said that it will continue to push for a full repeal of the contraceptive coverage rules "with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency" than if no changes had been made (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 2/11).
According to the New York Times, the bishops could face a rift with other Catholic groups that accepted the adjustments announced Friday, including the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals (New York Times, 2/11).
Women's Groups Praise White House Plan
Women's health advocates praised the White House plan as accommodating religious institutions that oppose contraception while still ensuring that women can access contraception, National Journal reports.
Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "The most important thing is that the administration is ensuring that every woman who needs coverage for contraception can have it."
The women's groups said they would watch closely as the administration moves forward with final language for the rule.
"It is very important to us that you not stigmatize the women who work for these hospitals, universities and nonprofit organizations," National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill said. "It really matters how they implement it," she added (Sanger-Katz, National Journal, 2/10).
White House Officials, Opponents React on Sunday Talk Shows
White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew defended the president's revised policy during multiple appearances on the Sunday talk shows, Roll Call reports (Miller, Roll Call, 2/12). He said Obama found the "right balance" between protecting women's health and religious freedom. He also said the changes would not increase costs for insurance companies (Savage, "Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 2/12).
When asked on CNN's "State of the Union" whether Obama would make additional accommodations for religious groups, Lew said, "No. This is our plan" (Favole/Barnes, "Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 2/12).
On PBS' "NewsHour," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the National Business Council on Health, government actuaries and group health plans "say having contraception as part of group insurance plan actually lowers overall cost" (Suarez, "NewsHour," PBS, 2/10).
Meanwhile, on CBS' "Face the Nation," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would continue to press for legislation that would allow employers with religious or moral objections to not offer contraceptive coverage for employees in any capacity. "We'll be voting on that in the Senate, and you can anticipate that would happen as soon as possible," he said, adding, "This issue will not go away until the administration simply backs down" (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 2/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.