Birth control: Trump expands opt-out for workplace insurance

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (October 6, 2017) — President Donald Trump is allowing more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections, issuing new rules Friday that take another step in rolling back the Obama health care law.

The new policy is a long-expected revision to federal rules that require most companies to cover birth control as preventive care for women, at no additional cost. Preventive services are supposed to be free of charge to employees and their dependents under former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Trump's religious and moral exemption is expected to galvanize both his opponents and religious conservatives that back him, but it's likely to have a limited impact on America's largely secular workplaces. Most women no longer pay for birth control, and advocates immediately announced plans to try to block the new rule in court.

Although tens of thousands of women could be affected by Trump's new policy, the vast majority of companies have no qualms about offering birth control benefits through their health plans.

Reaction ...

"At a very high level, this appears to a commonsense, balanced rule and a great step forward for religious liberty ... Given what the government is admitting in this document, I assume the government's lawyers won't stand in the way of the parties [with lawsuits in process] getting that relief ... This was always a big, unnecessary and divisive culture war fight.

"... The contraceptive mandate issue arose more than six years ago when the prior administration announced the initial version of the contraceptive mandate. I've honestly lost count, but I believe we're on the ninth or tenth different version of the contraceptive mandate rules, so we've traveled a long way since then. There have been dozens of cases; there have been at least five separate trips to the Supreme Court; [and] there have been billions and billions of dollars of fines that would have been applied against these religious groups but for that litigation that the courts have protected those religious groups and the fines."

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel
Becket

The administration estimated that some 200 employers who have already voiced objections to the Obama-era policy would qualify for the expanded opt-out, and that 120,000 women would be affected. However, it's unclear how major religious-affiliated employers such as Catholic hospitals and universities will respond.

Since contraception became a covered preventive benefit, the share of women employees paying their own money for birth control pills has plunged to under 4 percent, from 21 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Trump administration's revision broadens a religious exemption that previously applied to houses of worship, religiously affiliated nonprofit groups, and closely-held private companies. Administration officials said the new policy defends religious freedom. Privately owned for-profit companies, as well as publicly-traded for-profit companies will be able to seek an exemption.

Officials also said the administration is tightening oversight of how plans sold under the health law cover abortion. With limited exceptions, abortions can only be paid for through a separate premium collected from enrollees. No public subsidies can be used, except in cases that involve rape, incest, or preserving the life of the mother.

Doctors' groups that were key to derailing Republican plans to repeal the health law outright expressed dismay over the administration's move on birth control.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the new policy could reverse the recent progress in lowering the nation's rate of unintended pregnancies.

Administration officials said the new policy takes effect right away.

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