POL­ICY:

Ques­tions unan­swered on how plan will work

Modern Healthcare - - FRONT PAGE - Jes­sica Zig­mond

White House of­fers mid­dle ground on con­tra­cep­tive cov­er­age

The White House’s an­nounce­ment that re­li­gious hos­pi­tals and char­i­ties will not be re­quired to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age in their em­ployee health plans has left many won­der­ing who will re­ally pay for these ser­vices—and how?

With HHS Sec­re­tary Kath­leen Se­be­lius at his side, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama late last week said Amer­i­can women will still have ac­cess to free pre­ven­tive care that in­cludes con­tra­cep­tive ser­vices re­gard­less of where they work. But if a woman’s em­ployer has a re­li­gious ob­jec­tion to pay­ing for such cov­er­age as part of its em­ployee health plan, then the in­sur­ance com­pany, not the em­ployer, will be re­quired to reach out to the woman and of­fer those ser­vices at no charge.

“The re­sult will be that re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions won’t have to pay for these ser­vices, and no re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion will have to pro­vide these ser­vices di­rectly,” the pres­i­dent said dur­ing a Feb. 10 news con­fer­ence in which he took no ques- tions. “Let me re­peat: These em­ploy­ers will not have to pay for, or pro­vide, con­tra­cep­tive ser­vices,” he con­tin­ued. “But women who work at these in­sti­tu­tions will have ac­cess to free con­tra­cep­tive ser­vices, just like other women, and they’ll no longer have to pay hun­dreds of dol­lars a year that could go to­ward pay­ing the rent or buy­ing gro­ceries.”

Last Au­gust, HHS is­sued an in­terim final rule on pre­ven­tive ser­vices that would re­quire most health in­sur­ance plans to cover pre­ven­tive ser­vices for women—in­clud­ing con­tra­cep­tive ser­vices—with­out a co­pay, coin­sur­ance or de­ductible. Then on Jan. 20 of this year, Se­be­lius is­sued a state­ment say­ing not­for-profit em­ploy­ers who do not cur­rently pro­vide con­tra­cep­tive cov­er­age in their plans will have un­til Aug. 1, 2013, to com­ply.

Specif­i­cally, the new pol­icy says re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions will not have to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tive cov­er­age or re­fer their em­ploy­ees to or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide con­tra­cep­tion. Nor will they be re­quired to sub­si­dize the cost of con­tra­cep­tion. Con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age will be of­fered to women by their em­ploy­ers’ in­sur­ance com­pa­nies di­rectly, with no role for re­li­gious em­ploy­ers who op­pose con­tra­cep­tion, and in­sur­ance com­pa­nies will have to pro­vide this cov­er­age free of charge.

But the pres­i­dent’s re­cent an­nounce­ment did more to gen­er­ate ques­tions than it did to pro­vide an­swers. Robert Zirkel­bach, spokesman for Amer­ica’s Health In­sur­ance Plans, said in a state­ment that the na­tion’s health plans have long of­fered con­tra­cep­tive cov­er­age to em­ploy­ers as part of pre­ven­tive ben­e­fits, but that the group is con­cerned about the prece­dent the rule would set. AHIP will pro­vide com­ments

AP PHOTO

Ru­bio, cen­ter, doesn’t plan to aban­don his bill to bar obli­gat­ing em­ploy­ers with re­li­gious qualms to of­fer the cov­er­age.

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