June 18, 2012 — The Catholic Health Association on Friday rejected the Obama administration's plan to accommodate religiously affiliated employers who object to the federal contraceptive coverage rules, the Wall Street Journal reports (Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 6/15).
The contraceptive coverage rules implement a provision in the federal health reform law (PL 111-148) that requires health plans to cover preventive services without copayments or deductibles. Originally, the Obama administration exempted certain religious employers from covering contraceptive services for their employees, but it did not exempt religious organizations with more general missions, such as Catholic hospitals and universities.
After many religious leaders said the definition was too narrow, the administration announced in February that it would alter the rules so that religiously affiliated employers will not have to offer contraceptive coverage for their employees, but their health insurance companies will be required to provide no-cost coverage directly to women (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/22).
In a letter to HHS, CHA President Sister Carol Keehan wrote that Catholic hospitals had decided that the compromise is "unduly cumbersome and would be unlikely to adequately meet the religious liberty concerns of all our members and other Church ministries." Keehan was the "most high-profile Catholic to speak in support" of the compromise announced in February, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 6/15). CHA represents about 2,000 Catholic health care providers across the country (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/MSNBC, 6/15).
The administration should "abandon the narrow definition of 'religious employer' and instead use an expanded definition to exempt from the contraceptive mandate not only churches, but also Catholic hospitals, health care organizations and other ministries of the Church," the letter states. If HHS insists on moving forward with its plan to provide no-cost contraception, it should "find a way to provide and pay for these services directly without requiring any direct or indirect involvement of 'religious employers,' as broadly defined," the letter added.
Catholic Bishops Affirm Opposition to Contraceptive Coverage Rules
In related news, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their annual spring meeting this week in Atlanta renewed their opposition to the contraceptive coverage requirement (Gibson, Washington Post, 6/15).
USCCB on Sunday launched the Fortnight for Freedom campaign, which highlights how the federal rules violate religious liberties. Participating diocese will hold rallies, discuss the issue during Sunday Mass or distribute materials after services (Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/16).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership