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Health insurance should cover contraception, reasserts White House

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
contraception, birth control, Affordable Care Act, religious objection

WASHINGTON, DC - On January 20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a statement regarding the controversial issue of health insurance coverage without copay. The Obama administration noted that it is going forward with plans to require most employer health insurance to cover birth control without copayments; however, it noted one small modification: it will give religious employers an extra year to make the change.

Despite complaints from religious groups, the administration declined to modify or abolish the requirement. As part of the 2020 Affordable Care Act (ACA), beginning this August, insurance plans for most Americans will be mandated to cover all types of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) without copayments or deductibles for policyholders.

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In 2011, the federal government made an exemption for a small number of religious employers, such as churches, if contraception violates their religious beleiefs. That exemption remains unchanged in the new version; however, schools, hospitals, and charities managed by religious groups express concern that they are unlikely to qualify for an exemption. Health and Human Services officials noted in the January 20 report that employers who do not qualify for the exemption but still have religious objections to the requirement will be allowed to delay implementing the rule until August 2013; thus, giving them more time to adapt their policies. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is opposed to the use of most forms of birth control, described the additional year as "irrelevant." A conference spokeswoman, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, noted, "They still have the same outcome that they're going to force people to act against their conscience… It's meaningless."

Addressing the religious issue, Secretary Sebelius noted that her department had evaluated all comments regarding the mandate. She noted that nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year. She added that HHS intends to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support. In addition, she noted that her department “will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.”

The statement asserted that scientists have “abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families,” Furthermore, “contraception is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women.” According to HHS, the mandate will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost-sharing. Beyond religious objections are those of the cost of the additional benefits. Many opponents of contraceptive coverage claim that the added benefits will significantly drive up healthcare costs; thus, further, impacting the U.S. economy.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services