FRIDAY, Feb. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Religious organizations that
object to providing birth control coverage under the Affordable
Care Act would be allowed to hand that responsibility off to a
third party under new rules proposed Friday by the Obama
The so-called "contraception mandate" has already been
challenged in court by numerous groups on the grounds that it
violates their religious beliefs. Federal health officials said
Friday that the new rules are an attempt to address some of those
"The [Obama] administration is committed to working with all employers to give them the flexibility and resources they need to implement the health care law in a way that both protects women's health and also makes common-sense accommodations for religious beliefs," Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, deputy director for policy and regulation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said at a news conference.
The proposed rules show how nonprofit religious organizations,
such as Catholic hospitals or universities, can offer their
employees or students separate contraceptive coverage that would be
provided by a third party or insurer. There would still be no
co-pay and the cost of the coverage would not be carried by the
There will be a 60-day comment period on this latest reworking
of the mandate, part of the sweeping 2010 health-reform law known
as the Affordable Care Act. The mandate is scheduled to go into
effect for religious nonprofits in August.
Religious groups had mixed reactions to the proposal.
New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement
that he looked forward to studying the proposed regulations,
The New York Timesreported.
Stephen Schneck, director of Catholic University of America's
Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, told the
newspaper that the proposed rules were "an important win for
Meanwhile, women's-rights groups continued to voice support for
the guiding principle behind the original provision in the
Affordable Care Act.
"This policy delivers on the promise of women having access to birth control without co-pays no matter where they work," Planned Parenthood said in a statement released Friday. "Of course, we are reviewing the technical aspects of this proposal, but the principle is clear and consistent. This policy makes it clear that your boss does not get to decide whether you can have birth control."
Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law
Center, noted that, "Our overriding concern is that women have
meaningful access to essential preventive health care services,
like birth control, without co-pays or deductibles. We look forward
to reviewing and commenting on the proposed regulation in detail to
ensure that women are able to make personal health decisions
without interference by their bosses."
Although no federal dollars will be used to fund the program,
the cost to insurers isn't known and the government is seeking
comment on costs, Brooks-LaSure said.
For institutions that insure themselves, their third-party
administrator would work with an insurance company to provide a
separate plan to cover contraceptives, she said.
The rules also clarify the definition of a "religious employer,"
making it clear who can opt out of contraceptive coverage on such
grounds. Primarily, these are churches, other houses of worship and
their affiliated organizations, according to Health and Human
In addition, a religious group could be exempt even if it
"provides charitable social services to persons of different
religious faiths or employs persons of different religious faiths,"
Government officials said they did not think the proposal would
expand the number of employer plans that qualify for the
For more on the Affordable Care Act, visit the