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February 01, 2013

White House revises controversial contraception rule

The Obama administration today released new rules for contraceptive services with no co-pays, while, it says, "also respecting the concerns of some religious organizations."

The White House's initial announcement that religious organizations would have to provide employees with insurance coverage that included free contraceptives touched off a storm of controversy, and the administration says the new rules reflect "public feedback." The new proposed rules are also open for public comment through April 8.

Under the new rules, religious groups can opt out, but employees can still get coverage.

"Today, the administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a release. "We will continue to work with faith-based organizations, women’s organizations, insurers and others to achieve these goals."

The new rules spell out how  non-profit religious organizations, such as hospitals or colleges, that object to contraception on religious grounds can receive an "accommodation" that provides employees separate contraceptive coverage -- with no co-pays and at no cost to the religious organization, the administration says.

Under the plans -- including student health plans -- religious organizations that opt out would provide notice to their insurer who would notify enrollees that it is providing them with contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies. 

When it comes to self-insured plans, as well as student health plans, religious organizations would provide notice to the third party administrator who would work with an insurer to arrange contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies. 

The administration says the proposed rules spell out how the costs of the insurer and the third party administrator would be covered, without charge to the religious organization or enrollees.

The rules also "simplify and clarify" the definition of "religious employer" for purposes of the exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement. The employers, primarily houses of worship, can exclude contraception coverage from their health plans for their employees. 

A fact sheet on today’s proposed rules is available here.

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