The Obama administration announced today, Feb. 1, it has filed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that provides additional accommodations for religious organizations that object to providing employees with contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) mandates that health plans cover, with no co-pay, the cost of women’s preventative services, including FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.
Some religious groups claim providing this coverage for their employees would be an unacceptable violation of their religious tenants and their first-amendment right to freely practice their religion.
Acknowledging this controversy, the law had exempted churches from the provision. The rules proposed today extend this exemption to hospitals and schools run by religious organizations. Employees of exempted groups will receive coverage for contraceptive services through a separate policy, issued by the organization’s insurer or a third-party administrator, at no cost. The exempt organization would have no role in contracting, arranging, paying, or referring for this separate coverage.
“Today, the administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns.” — Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary
The insurer will be compensated by an adjustment in the user fee the insurer must pay to participate in the Federally-Facilitated Exchange. The user fee is one of the financing-mechanisms of the Affordable Care Act.
To qualify for the religion exemption, an organization must:
- oppose providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services required to be covered on account of religious objections
- be organized and operate as a nonprofit entity
- hold itself out as a religious organization
- self-certifies that it meets these criteria and specifies the contraceptive services for which it objects to providing coverage.
The public may comment on the proposed rules at Regulations.gov through April 8. Commenters should refer to file code CMS-9968-P.