February 10, 2012

From the White House: Women at Religious Institutions Will have Contraception Covered

Today, the White House released a document addressing recent controversy over one preventive service covered under the Affordable Care Act – birth control. Under the Act, insurance plans are required to provide coverage for contraception without charging a co-pay, co-insurance or a deductible. U.S. Catholic bishops objected to the coverage, claiming it was a violation of their religious beliefs.

The statement indicates:

The policy also ensures that if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to directly offer her contraceptive care free of charge.

In other words, Catholic or other religiously affiliated organizations get to say they selected health insurance plans for their employees that do not cover contraception, while those employees can still receive no-cost contraception directly via the insurance providers. Whether these costs will be covered by the insurance companies directly, or perhaps reimbursed to those companies via Medicaid, is not clear, and we’ll need to watch the implementation to make sure this ends up working for women.

The provision already had exemptions for religiously-focused organizations like churches. At issue were the religiously affiliated organizations such as Catholic hospitals and universities, which typically employee people from a variety of (or no) faith traditions. Many such organizations already offer contraception coverage to employees, and a number of states require employer-based plans to provide this coverage.

According to one recent survey, the majority of Catholic Americans (52%) say religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to provide coverage that includes contraception. A 2011 Guttmacher report indicated that, “Among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same, 98%, among sexually experienced Catholic women.”

Here’s Rachel Maddow talking about the issue on Wednesday, placing it in the context of the current elections:

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