HHS rule proposes any employer could skip offering birth control coverage
HHS is proposing expanding exemptions to allow employers to opt out of offering birth control through their health plans if they are morally or religously opposed to it.
The policy would kill a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires nearly all employers to help cover birth control. Exemptions include religious and not-for-profit organizations. HHS is proposing expanding the exemptions to allow any company that cites moral or religious objections.
The agency did not estimate how many companies this could include. The rulemaking also gives a pass to insurance companies, colleges and universities with similar reasoning.
In February, the Trump administration leaked a draft executive order expanding religious protections that could make it easier for employers to deny contraception coverage and roll back anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals seeking healthcare services.
The Trump administration called into question the ACA mandate, saying it hasn't resulted in lower birth or abortion rates. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last year, the U.S. birth rate fell to the lowest point since record-keeping started more than a century ago. Meanwhile, the abortion rate has fallen to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women, according to a January report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports legalized abortion. That's the lowest recorded rate since the Roe V. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion, it said.
Still, hundreds of thousands of women could lose access to no-cost birth control coverage, according to Gretchen Borchelt, vice president of reproductive rights and health at the National Women's Law Center.
"Giving permission to employers and insurance companies for their religious or moral beliefs to override women's access to basic healthcare, which is critical to their economic security, is a license to discriminate and an affront to all women," Borchelt said.
Some Democratic lawmakers are also upset, saying the rule would prevent women from making their own decisions on healthcare while empowering employers and politicians.
"Every woman has the right to make her own intimate health decisions – and Democrats will never stop fighting to defend that right," Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
The rule was sent to the Office of Management and Budget on May 23. The agency has up to 90 days to review it. Once it's in the Federal Register, there will be a 60-day comment period.
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