HHS Gives Catholic Hospitals Exemption on Contraception Coverage

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A major hot-button issue of the 2012 election cycle was whether or not religious-affiliated institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, would have to provide insurance coverage for contraception to its employees. The Obama administration had already revised its original requirement once, and according to Donovan Slack and Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico, it’s “backtracking” for a second time.

They report, “A new policy announced Friday (Feb. 1) further expanded the exemption to Obamacare: Women will still be able to get the same health benefits, but certain religious employers won’t have to pay for them. Instead, institutions that insure themselves can use a third party to find a separate health-insurance plan to pay for and provide the contraceptives.”

Instead, “costs will be covered by fees insurers pay to participate in the new federal health exchanges being set up under Obamacare.”

The Obama administration is trying to avoid any pretense of violating religious rights, expanding “the definition of ‘religious employer,’ potentially allowing more institutions to get out of the requirement. The new policy eliminates the requirement that they have religious values in their purpose, employ people of the same religion, and primarily serve people with the same religious values.”

“We will continue to work with faith-based organizations, women’s organizations, insurers, and others to achieve these goals,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius promised.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, responded to the policy revision vaguely, simply stating, “We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”

Indeed, one area of contention still remains.

“The policy does not address the concerns of private businesses whose owners also object to contraception on religious grounds,” Slack and Haberkorn write. “Several dozen lawsuits have been filed, and the religious-freedom issue is likely to reach the Supreme Court.”

Nevertheless, Executive Director of Catholics United James Salt, was more praiseworthy, saying, “HHS has done the right thing. This is a victory not only for the Obama administration, but for the Catholic Church.”

HCE has had the privilege of interviewing many religiously affiliated organizations in the past. We’re interested in getting your thoughts on this revision to the contraception mandate. Does it satisfy your concerns? Or do you see a need for the administration to revise the mandate even further? If so, what should those revisions entail?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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