HHS Issues Two New Contraceptive Coverage Rules Under ACA
The changes are meant to address gaps in coverage created by the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, which said that closely held corporations cannot be required to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees if the corporations' owners have religious objections to contraception, as well as the court's decision to grant an injunction to Wheaton College, an evangelical university that objected to filling out a form that would authorize a third party to provide the coverage for its employees and students.
Details of the Rules
One rule maintains the accommodation for religiously affiliated not-for-profits that object to contraceptive coverage but creates a second way for those entities to inform the government of their objections (Carmon, MSNBC, 8/22). Under the new option, religiously affiliated not-for-profits can send a letter to HHS stating that they object to offering contraceptive coverage in their health plans. Such organizations still have the option of filling out the form, if they prefer.
The rule takes effect immediately upon publication, but HHS will take comments (HHS release, 8/22).
Meanwhile, a second proposed rule would allow the same accommodation for small, closely held for-profit companies, meaning the businesses have a small number of owners or a minimum percentage of the company's ownership is concentrated among a small number of individuals. In addition, the company could not be traded publicly (Shear, New York Times, 8/22).
HHS called for comments "on how to define a closely held for-profit company and whether other steps might be appropriate to implement this policy" (HHS release, 8/22). HHS will accept comments on the proposed rule for 60 days. After the comment period, the Obama administration will decide whether to implement the rule (New York Times, 8/22).
HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said the update "reinforces [the federal government's] commitment to providing women with access to coverage for contraception, while respecting religious considerations raised by non-profit organizations and closely held for-profit companies" (Bassett, Huffington Post, 8/22).
Debate Over Accommodation Continues
Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said, "While the Obama administration is working hard to protect women's access to birth control in the face of harmful Supreme Court decisions, today's notice also serves as a stark reminder of what is at stake for women in this country when it comes to affordable basic health care." Richards called on Congress "to act to protect birth control access" (New York Times, 8/22).
Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said minor changes in the rules do not go far enough to protect religious freedom. UCCB President and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said, "The regulations would only modify the 'accommodation,' under which the mandate still applies and sill requires the provision of the objectionable coverage."
Some said the accommodations were adequate.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in a statement said, "Now that the administration has bent over backwards to accommodate religiously affiliated non-profits, it's time for these organizations to put this issue behind them and allow women to receive" contraceptive coverage (Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 8/22).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.