On January 20, 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the final rule that will require most new health insurance plans under the Preventive Care package of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to cover contraceptive services, including contraceptive counseling and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, without charging a deductible or co-pay by August 1, 2012.
HHS requested comments on its interim rule on contraceptive coverage in August 2011. The interim rule included a religious exemption for a “religious employer” that “(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization [under a section of Internal Revenue Code that is typically limited to houses of worship and associations of those houses of worship].” The National Conference of Catholic Bishops lobbied heavily for a wider religious exemption, one that would deny contraceptive coverage to millions of women who receive health insurance through religiously-affiliated educational institutions, hospitals, and social services organizations. The Obama Administration resisted this pressure and maintained the narrow definition of “religious employer.” As a result, many religiously-affiliated non-profit employers and educational institutions will have to provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans. The Administration has given these organizations an additional year to comply with the rule.
In making the decision to maintain a narrow religious exemption to the rule, HHS recognizes the benefit of contraceptive services on women’s health, stating, “Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant benefits for women and their families, is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women.” As the Women’s Law Project (WLP) documents in its forthcoming report, Through the Lens of Equality: Gender Bias, Health, and a New Vision for Pennsylvania’s Women, contraceptives benefit women’s health in many ways, including by preventing unintended pregnancies, treating certain health conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, and, in the case of male or female condoms, reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections. Despite these benefits for women’s health, contraceptives are expensive, and many require an exam and prescription from a health care provider. At the present time, contraceptives may be prohibitively expensive for many women, even for those with insurance plans because of high co-pays and deductibles.
The HHS final rule requiring most insurance plans to cover contraceptive services will make contraceptives—and the health benefits associated with them—accessible to more American women. The WLP would have preferred the rule to contain no exemption or an even narrower one because all women should have access to contraceptive coverage. However, WLP applauds the Administration for resisting pressure to widen the scope of the exemption. To thank the Administration for preventing religiously-affiliated non-profits from denying contraceptive coverage to their students and employees, call or write to HHS at:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Toll Free: 1-877-696-6775
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