Questions unanswered on how plan will work
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
Rubio, center, doesn’t plan to abandon his bill to bar obligating employers with religious qualms to offer the coverage.