Posted Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, at 3:35 PM
The Department of Health and Human Services has just released the proposed rules for handling religious objections to a new mandate requiring employer-provided insurance to cover contraception without a copay. The New York Times, at least, is covering this release as if it were a new and exciting "compromise" between the Obama administration and employers who believe their God wants ladies to be perma-pregnant. First the Times announced it in a "Breaking News" banner, and now the home page headline reads: "Birth Control Rule Altered to Allay Religious Objections." Click on that and you'll get to: "White House Proposes Compromise on Contraception Coverage." The problem is that the proposal isn't new, and nothing's been altered since the Obama administration announced a clarification of the plan a year ago.
Back then, I described the HHS announcement of how the administration planned to deal with religiously affiliated organizations that do secular work and wanted an exemption from the contraception mandate:
After two solid weeks of Republicans rapidly escalating attacks on contraception access under the banner of "religious freedom," Obama finally announced what the White House is proposing: an accommodation of religiously affiliated employers who don't want to offer birth control coverage as part of their insurance plans. In those situations, the insurance companies will have to reach out directly to employees and offer contraception coverage for free, without going through the employer.
Nothing has changed in the proposal. Here is today's New York Times description:
Under the proposal, the administration said, “eligible organizations would not have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds.” Female employees of such organizations would receive contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies, without having to pay premiums or co-payments.
Unless there's some invisible bureaucratic weirdness going on that's not being reported, nothing has changed. Non-profits like universities and hospitals that are religiously affiliated will not cover contraception in their group plan, but the insurance company will provide the coverage directly to the employees and covered spouses. The anti-choicers will continue to complain, because even though this arrangement leaves the contraception choice between a woman and her insurance company, they're eager to exploit any angle they can to separate women from their birth control. The good news, though, is that despite the headlines, there's no reason to think the administration has caved to religious fundamentalists.