Healthcare Business News

Catholic bishops reject Obama birth control move

By Ashok Selvam
Posted: February 7, 2013 - 6:00 pm ET

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is not satisfied with the Obama administration's attempt to defuse opposition to mandatory birth-control coverage under the healthcare reform law.

“The administration's proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries,” Conference President Timothy Dolan said in a statement. “It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic healthcare, Catholic education and Catholic charities.”

Dolan previously said the the federal government should exempt all Catholic institutions, including hospitals, from the mandate that health plans provide contraception at no out-of-pocket cost to beneficiaries.

The Catholic Health Association, which represents the nation's Catholic hospitals, has yet to weigh in on the proposal, which HHS and the Labor and Treasury departments issued Feb. 1.

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The regulations narrowly construe “religious employers” that qualify for an exemption, defining such organizations as ones that exist primarily to advance religious values and primarily employ and serve people who share those beliefs.

Other religiously affiliated not-for-profit organizations would be allowed to request an accommodation that the administration said would relieve them of having to pay or arrange for coverage, which instead would be provided by the insurer or, in the case of self-insured employers, a third-party plan administrator.

Dolan, however, said “it is still unclear how directly these separate policies would be funded by objecting ministries, and what precise role those ministries would have in arranging for these separate policies” and “ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities.”

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, where Dolan is archbishop, sued HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last July, saying that the contraception regulations violate religious employers' First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion. The lawsuit survived a motion from the government to dismiss the case, though the Justice Department has asked the federal judge to reconsider his December ruling.

The CHA released a brief statement reserving judgment the day the proposed rule was issued. The organization, which reportedly worked closely with the administration to forge a previous attempt to allay the concerns of religious employers, had asked the administration to further amend its approach.

“Now that a new proposed rule has been released for review and comment, we look forward to studying it in relation to our members' expressed concerns and sharing our assessment of the changes,” the CHA said in the statement.

The comment period on the proposed rule is open through April 8. A final rule is expected in the summer.

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