Response Mixed to New ACA Contraceptive Rules

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Obama Administration is set to release new rules on Tuesday finalizing religion-based exemptions for employers who object to the provision of contraceptive care required under the Affordable Care Act.
     The new rules, jointly issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury, extend exemptions already enjoyed by eligible religious nonprofits to “closely held for-profit entities,” in response to the Supreme Court’s June 30, 2014, decision in the highly publicized Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case.
     Using a federal tax law definition, the rules consider a “closely held for-profit entity” to be an organization or company that is not publicly traded, has an ownership structure with no more than half of its ownership interests in the hands of five or fewer individuals, or is an entity with a “substantially similar” ownership structure.
     The HHS noted that this definition is believed to cover all the for-profit companies that have challenged the previously mandated ACA contraception insurance coverage on religious grounds.
     The new rules also provide an alternative method for exempt organizations to provide notice of their objection to covering contraceptive care by simply providing a written notice of their objection to the HHS instead of filling out the previously-required form.
     The rules provide a pathway for women employed by companies that object to paying for contraceptive care on religious grounds to obtain contraceptive services directly from the insurance company at no cost to themselves or their employers.
     “Women across the country should have access to preventive services, including contraception,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell said in a written statement. “At the same time, we recognize the deeply held views on these issues, and we are committed to securing women’s access to important preventive services at no additional cost under the Affordable Care Act, while respecting religious beliefs.”
     For some, the exemption from having to pay for the contraceptive services is apparently not enough. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit religious rights advocacy group that was instrumental in securing the Hobby Lobby ruling, took strong objection to the new rules.
     “The government keeps digging the hole deeper,” Adèle Keim, the Becket Fund’s Legal Counsel, said. “But the government still won’t give up on its quest to force nuns and other religious employers to distribute contraceptives. Especially after the Supreme Court’s recent King v. Burwell decision allowed the government to expand its healthcare exchanges, there is no reason at all the government needs religious employers to help it distribute these products.”
     However, according to the HHS, eligible organizations do not have to contract, arrange, pay for or refer a person for contraceptive services coverage under the accommodations.
     Those on the other side of the issue maintain that the new rules allow “even more for-profit employers than the decision addressed to refuse to cover birth control in their employee health plans,” according to the National Women’s Law Center.
     The HHS notes that 99 percent of U.S. women have relied on contraception services, but that more than half of them have struggled to afford it. The independent Institute of Medicine recommended that the HHA cover contraceptive services for women with child-bearing capacity due to the health benefits for women that come from using contraception.
     “The Supreme Court dealt a blow to women’s health in its Hobby Lobby decision, allowing bosses to discriminate against their employees by refusing to cover birth control. With this rule, the Administration ensured that those employees can secure needed birth control coverage through insurance companies directly, but the definition of “closely-held” for-profit employers allowed to opt out is too broad. It is now especially incumbent on the Administration to ensure that this essential birth control coverage is in fact seamlessly available to all employees, and that the full range of birth control methods is fully covered. It is also incumbent on Congress to fix the burgeoning number of wrongs that have stemmed from the Hobby Lobby decision,” Marcia Greenberger, Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center said.
     The final rules are scheduled to publish tomorrow, July 14, and will be effective 60 days after publication.

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