The Obama Administration has proposed new regulations that purport to accommodate some of the concerns voiced by religious organizations in response to its original attempt to mandate that virtually all health insurance plans offer contraceptive coverage free of charge.
You can read or download the regulations (all eighty pages of them!) here (scroll down a bit).
Like everyone else, I can only promise to study these new regulations closely before I offer any sort of comprehensive commentary.
For the moment, with the Becket Fund, I’ll note that the regulations certainly don’t address the conscientious concerns of religiously motivated for-profit employers. The proposed regulations also maintain the distinction between religious organizations (largely houses of worship) that are exempt from the HHS mandate and those that are not (e.g., religiously affiliated hospitals and universities). Eligibility requirements for membership in both groups seem to be a bit looser.
The big change seems to be in the way contraceptive coverage is going to be provided to those enrolled in the health insurance plans offered by the non-exempt religious groups.
Under the proposed accommodations, the eligible organizations would not have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds.
In addition, under the proposed accommodations, plan participants would receive contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies, without cost sharing or additional premiums. The issuer would work to ensure a seamless process for plan participants to receive contraceptive coverage.
With respect to insured group health plans, the eligible organization would provide the self-certification to the health insurance issuer, which in turn would automatically provide separate, individual market contraceptive coverage at no cost for plan participants. Issuers generally would find that providing such contraceptive coverage is cost neutral because they would be they would be insuring the same set of individuals under both policies and would experience lower costs from improvements in women’s health and fewer childbirths.
With respect to self-insured group health plans, the eligible organization would notify the third party administrator, which in turn would automatically work with a health insurance issuer to provide separate, individual health insurance policies at no cost for participants. The costs of both the health insurance issuer and third party administrator would be offset by adjustments in Federally-facilitated Exchange user fees that insurers pay.
The claim that will receive (and deserves to receive) the most attention is that this arrangement leaves no costs for contraceptive coverage that can in any way be passed on to the religious organization (see pp. 26, 28 of the proposed regulations).
So, gentle readers, what do you think?