by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is still considering how to respond to a notice of possible changes to exemptions for coverage of abortifacients and contraceptives in the Affordable Care Act.
On Feb. 1, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a proposal that would affect health coverage regulations under the preventative services for women portion of the ACA, which has become known as the contraceptive mandate.
Beginning on that date, the proposed rules are open to a 60-day period of public comment, ending on April 8.
“Today [Feb. 1], the administration issued proposed regulations regarding the HHS mandate,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”
According to a press release issued by HHS, the proposed rules “lay out how non-profit religious organizations, such as non-profit religious hospitals or institutions of higher education, that object to contraception on religious grounds, can receive an accommodation that provides their enrollees separate contraceptive coverage, and with no copays, but at no cost to the religious organizations.”
The proposed rules would eliminate an earlier three-part criteria that defined a religious employer, relying instead on a definition of religious employer according to an Internal Revenue Code that would include churches, other houses of worship, and their affiliated organizations.
Those who are employed by exempt religious entities will still receive contraceptive coverage, although not from their employer.
Employees covered under group health plans would receive contraceptive coverage from the insurer. The insurer would pay for the costs through savings from “improvements in women’s health and fewer childbirths,” according to the HHS.
Employees of exempted organizations who are covered under selfinsured plans would also receive contraceptive coverage from insurers at no cost. The cost of coverage to the insurer and costs to the third-party administrator of the exempt entity’s plan would be “offset by adjustments in federally-facilitated exchange user fees that insurers pay,” according to the HHS.
The new, proposed rules specify that no exemption will be given to “for-profit, secular” employers.