KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Bishops Forcefully Reject Obama’s Contraception Compromise

News outlets reported on the buzz generated by President Barack Obama's announcement Friday of a compromise on the administration's requirement that most health plans provide birth control access for free.

The Wall Street Journal: Catholic Bishops Oppose Compromise on Birth-Control Insurance
The bishops had earlier expressed cautious optimism about the announcement, saying that it was "a first step in the right direction" but that they would have to study it. ... The bishops also said that the current structure of the proposal meant that if an employee and insurer agreed to add contraception coverage to a health plan, it would still be financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the employer (Radnofsky, 2/11).

Politico: Bishops Call Obama's Contraception Compromise 'Unacceptable'
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the administration’s plan still includes a "nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients." ... they made it clear that a "lack of clear protection for key stakeholders — for self-insured religious employers; for religious and secular for-profit employers; for secular non-profit employers; for religious insurers; and for individuals — is unacceptable and must be corrected. ... A senior administration official told POLITICO on Saturday that the White House didn't expect to win the support of the bishops with Friday's updated policy (Haberkorn, 2/11).

The Washington Post: U.S. bishops Blast Obama's Contraception Compromise
The bishops’ broadside is evidence that Obama’s effort to limit the damage from this unusually complicated moral, legal, medical and financial issue isn’t necessarily working. .. An administration official not authorized to speak on the record expressed little surprise at the bishops’ statement, which if anything represents a hardening of their position. "We never anticipated that this announcement would win the endorsement of an organization that opposed health reform from the very beginning,” the official said. “But we believe it’s the right way to fully address concerns about religious liberty and ensure women get the coverage they need” (Brown, 2/11).

NPR: New Contraceptive Plan: A Successful Balancing Act?
Obama says the new policy will preserve women's access to affordable birth control, no matter where they work. It's also designed to address the complaints of Catholic hospitals, universities and similar organizations. "These employers will not have to pay for or provide contraceptive services," he said, "but women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women." The administration hopes to achieve this balancing act by having insurance companies provide the coverage directly to employees, effectively taking the Catholic charity out of the loop (Horsley, 2/11).

The New York Times: Rule Shift on Birth Control Is Concession to Obama Allies 
For the White House, the decision announced Friday ... was never really driven by a desire to mollify Roman Catholic bishops, who were strongly opposed to the plan. Rather, the fight was for Sister Carol Keehan — head of an influential Catholic hospital group, who had supported President Obama’s health care law — and Catholic allies of the White House seen as the religious left. Sister Keehan had told the White House that the new rule, part of the health care law, went too far (Cooper and Goodstein, 2/10).

Kaiser Health News: FAQ: The Obama Administration's Compromise On Contraception Benefits
Some 28 states have mandated coverage of birth control, and 20 of those have some sort of exemption for religious employers. ... "The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions," the group’s president, Sister Carol Keehan, said in a statement. The Catholic Health Association broke with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops two years ago to support the health law, but had opposed the Jan. 20 rule (Carey, 2/11).

Christian Science Monitor: Can Birth-Control Flap Rekindle 'Repeal ObamaCare' Crusade?
As public pressure mounted, both Catholic leaders and GOP congressional leaders called on the White House not just to revise the rules for church-affiliated groups, but to extend conscience protections to all employers. It’s a move that the White House fears would open a vast escape clause in the employer mandate, gutting health-care reform. In a conference call with reporters on Friday, senior administration officials specified that this accommodation applies only to nonprofit religious organizations, like hospitals, charities, and schools – not to private employers. "The core principle [is] that women who work at these institutions – again, nurses, teachers, doctors, janitors –... be provided the same access to contraceptive services as other employees," said one official (Chaddock, 2/11). 

The Associated Press: Analysis: Obama's Course Correction Shifts Dynamic
The once formidable coalition against the president had splintered. Factions that had stood with the GOP cautiously backed Obama's midcourse correction. It was a necessary policy change that reversed the political dynamic. ... The initial policy had drawn opposition from Democrats such as Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, all Catholic and all facing re-election this year. ... Larson praised the president for finding a "path forward to provide coverage to everyone while addressing the conscience concerns of religiously affiliated organizations." Manchin and Casey held off on a final assessment, saying they were looking at the details (Cassata, 2/11).

The Hill: CPAC Buzzes About Contraception Clash
Social issues ruled the day at the Conservative Political Action Conference, as President Obama’s fight with the Catholic Church over contraception dominated the day’s discussion. ... Despite his retreat on the issue, all the presidential contenders criticized him ... "We've seen the president of the United States not only tell you what insurance coverage you should have, how much you’re going to pay, how much you’re going to be fined if you don’t, but now he's telling the Catholic Church that they are forced to pay for things that are against their basic tenets and teachings, against their First Amendment right,” [Rick Santorum] said (Joseph, 2/10).

Roll Call: House GOP Vows to Block Revised Birth Control Rule
House Republicans today rejected President Barack Obama’s compromise contraception rule and vowed to move forward with legislation aimed at blocking it. ... "The House of Representatives, led by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will continue to work toward a legislative solution that achieves" protections for religious institutions adequate enough for Republicans, [Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman Michael] Steel said (Stanton, 2/10).


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