Today the Obama administration made clear its commitment to public health and announced an accommodation to the birth control mandate that allows women to get contraceptive coverage directly through their insurance plans at no cost to them while certain religious employers retain the ability to “object” to birth control and purchase plans that do not provide coverage.
Here’s how it will work. Insurers will create policies that do not include contraceptive coverage for religious organizations that object. That same insurance company must then simultaneously offer contraceptive coverage to all employees directly, and can not charge an additional premium or fee for that coverage. These will not be riders, that is, the contraception remains in the insurance benefits provided. This means all women get free contraceptive coverage.
Administration officials emphasized that their rule requires insurance companies, not religious institutions to “reach out directly and offer her contraceptive care free of charge. The religious institutions will not have to pay for it.” Additionally, women will not have to opt in or opt out of coverage because contraceptive care will be part of the basic package of benefits offered to everyone. That right there is the non-discrimination in services mandate of the Affordable Care Act and it is not going away.
In fact, the accommodation is a better rule than what administration officials had earlier considered. “We are actually more comfortable having the insurance industry offer and market this to women than religious institutions,” said the White House official because they “understand how contraception works” to prevent unintended pregnancy and reduce health care costs. “This makes sense financially.”
It’s also a good solution for insurance companies. Offering contraception is cost-neutral. Insurance companies understand there are tremendous cost benefits in spacing pregnancies and limiting unintended pregnancies, not to mention other health benefits of contraception.
The rule will be applied to all but the original institutions that were exempted. Exempted institutions are those for which religious inculcation is their primary purpose, so churches. Exemption institutions will not be expanded to include hospitals and social services organizations meaning women who happens to work at a hospital or some other organization that services people of all faiths in work that is not principally about religious inculcation will retain access to contraceptive coverage at no additional cost.
And it will absolutely not, according to White House officials, exempt private employers, an important distinction since the Bishops have made it clear their goal is eliminating all contraceptive coverage in health reform entirely.
Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood Federation of America applauded the move as did Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association and NARAL. No word yet from the Bishops.
Not only is this good public health policy, the Obama administration made a very smart move politically. They offered a pragmatic resolution to a manufactured crisis by the Bishops. Predictably, the hard right came out in loud support of the Bishops and started campaigning against birth control. They couldn’t help themselves.
And it gets better. The Bishops won’t be satisfied and Republicans have already doubled down meaning they have to either break with the Bishops and drop the issue or they need to continue to campaign against contraception.
Your move, GOP.
Photo from nateOne via flickr.