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President Barack Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius leave after announcing a policy revamp regarding faith-based employers and insurance coverage for contraception.
President Barack Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius leave after announcing a policy revamp regarding faith-based employers and insurance coverage for contraception.

Shift on birth-control coverage gets mixed reaction

By Jessica Zigmond
Posted: February 10, 2012 - 2:15 pm ET

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(Story updated with comment at 3:30 p.m. ET.)

News that the Obama administration would accommodate faith-based employers who object to paying for health insurance that covers contraceptive services was welcomed by the head of the Catholic Health Association, while the insurance industry trade group greeted the announcement with caution.

Under the new policy, women will have free preventive care including contraceptive services regardless of where she works. But if a woman's employer is a charity or hospital that has an objection as part of its policy, then her insurance company will be required to offer her contraception coverage, a senior administration official told reporters during a Friday call.

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“We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished,” Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, said in a written statement. “The unity of Catholic organizations in addressing this concern was a sign of its importance.”

The response from the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans expressed concern about future implications of the decision.

Robert Zirkelbach, press secretary for AHIP, said in a statement that health plans have long offered coverage of contraceptive services to employers as part of preventive benefits. “We are concerned about the precedent this proposed rule would set,” Zirkelbach said. “As we learn more about how this rule would be operationalized, we will provide comments through the regulatory process.”

The administration official also said the decision achieves two goals: it allows women to receive available and affordable care, and also says that religious institutions don't have to pay for it.

On Friday, the Obama administration published final rules in the Federal Register that would exempt churches, other houses of worship and similar organizations from covering contraception on the basis of their religious objections and establish a one-year transition period for religious organizations while the policy is implemented.

And, in this latest policy, religious organizations will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception, according to the administration.

Those organizations will also not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception. Meanwhile, contraceptive coverage will be offered to women by their employers' insurance companies directly, with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception. Lastly, insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women for free.

The White House reports that about 99% of all women have used contraception at some point in their lives, while about half of women between the ages of 18 and 34 have difficulty affording it.

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