KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

HHS Gives Some Religious Employers An Extra Year To Comply With Birth Control Rule

The Obama administration announced Friday that it will not significantly change the requirement that most employers cover FDA-approved contraceptives as part of a health plan. The health law includes a requirement that most workplaces cover preventive services for free.

The Associated Press: Feds Grant 1-Year Extension On Birth Control Rule
The Obama administration is giving church-affiliated institutions an extra year to comply with a new rule that employers cover birth control free of charge through their health plans. ... the extension applies to church-affiliated hospitals, universities, social service organizations and similar institutions. They will now have until August 1, 2013, to comply. ... Employer health plans in most cases have to comply by August of this year (Alonso-Zaldivar, 1/20).

The Washington Post: Obama Administration Gives Groups More Time To Comply With Birth Control Rule
The rule, which was first announced last summer and which has drawn more than 200,000 comments, requires private insurance not merely to include birth control, but to do so without out-of-pocket charges. It will take effect beginning Aug. 1, as plans renew. From the beginning, the rule exempted employers such as churches whose primary purpose is to inculcate religious beliefs and that mainly employ and serve individuals who share those beliefs. Religious advocates argued that this definition was too narrow, excluding a wide range of church-affiliated universities, hospitals and schools (Aizenman, 1/20).

The New York Times: Obama Reaffirms Insurers Must Cover Contraception
Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church had personally appealed to President Obama to grant the broad exemption. He made the final decision on the issue after hearing from them, as well as from family planning advocates, scientific experts and members of Congress, administration officials said. The rule takes a big step to remove cost as a barrier to birth control, a longtime goal of advocates for women’s rights and experts on women’s health (Pear, 1/20).

The Los Angeles Times: Religious Institutions' Health Plans Must Offer Birth Control
Important election-year constituents — women's advocates and liberal groups — were delighted by the administration's hold-the-line decision. They had been worried the White House might exempt large numbers of religiously affiliated employers, such as Catholic hospitals and universities. Places of worship, including churches and synagogues, already were exempt (McGinley, 1/20).

Kaiser Health News: Bishops Will Sue Feds Over Contraception Rule
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is promising a legal challenge to federal rules the Obama administration reaffirmed Friday requiring health insurers to provide women with a range of preventive health services, including birth control, without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or deductible (Carey and Kulkarni, 1/20).

NPR: Administration Stands Firm On Birth Control Coverage
"This is a health care issue," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. "It was based on what's good for women's health." Richards also pointed out that, despite the bishops' claims, many religious organizations currently offer birth control as a covered health benefit. "It hasn't been an issue before," she said (Rovner, 1/20). 

The Hill: Obama Administration Orders Health Plans To Cover Birth Control Without Co-Pays
Congressional Republicans slammed the decision as an assault on religious freedom. "This ruling forces religious organizations to violate the fundamental tenets of their faith, or stop offering health insurance coverage to their employees," said the Republican Policy Committee. ... Access to birth control is the most controversial aspect of the healthcare reform law's preventive care provisions, which require plans to cover such care without co-pays and deductibles (Pecquet, 1/20).

Politico: HHS Decision Scores No Points With Right, But Keeps Allies On Board
Americans United for Life's Anna Franzonello took issue with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s statement that the one-year grace period "strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive [health] services." Franzonello said it "was just adding insult to injury” to put “an expiration date on conscience clause protections" (Feder, 1/20).

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a written statement on the decision.

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