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Obama administration proposes fix to Hobby Lobby contraception ruling

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Women whose insurance coverage for contraceptives is threatened by the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision may get this coverage directly from their health insurance provider under a new proposal announced today by the Department of Health and Human Services. This action was prompted by the Supreme Court’s June 30 ruling that closely held corporations could not be compelled to provide health insurance coverage for services that violated their deeply held religious beliefs. In the suit, retailer Hobby Lobby claimed the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage requirement violated their freedom of religion.

Today’s proposal by the administration seeks to expand an accommodation already offered to non-profit religious organizations. The administration is proposing two new rules. One to relieve groups that object to contraceptives from having to involve themselves in procuring coverage for employees, and another to include closely held corporations in the accommodation.

For a health plan to be ACA compliant, it must cover certain preventative health services with no cost sharing. Included in the required services is coverage for all forms of contraception approved by the FDA. Some religions object to the use of birth control and object to buying this coverage for employees. Under the current accommodation, non-profit religious groups do not have to pay for contraceptive coverage, but they must direct their health plan administrator to supply this coverage for employees.

Some groups, such as Little Sisters of the Poor, claim this accommodation is inadequate. The Sisters believe that directing their insurer to provide objectionable services violates their religious convictions. The proposal announced today attempts to satisfy this objection. Under the proposed rule, these groups need only send a written notice to HHS stating their objection. HHS will notify the insurers, who will then issue separate contraceptive coverage to employees at no additional cost to the employer or employee. The second rule in today’s proposal would extend the accommodation to for-profit, closely held corporations such as Hobby Lobby.

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