The Obama administration is proposing a workaround to provide contraceptive coverage to employees of closely held companies that object on religious grounds. It was not immediately clear whether this latest compromise would finally defuse the controversy that has yielded dozens of lawsuits challenging the administration’s policies on the coverage.
Under a proposed rule issued Friday, HHS would give those companies the same accommodation extended to religious charities that raise objections.
The change comes in response to the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, that the government cannot require companies to provide the coverage if they have a religious objection.
“Women across the country deserve access to recommended preventive services that are important to their health, no matter where they work,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. “Today’s announcement reinforces our commitment to providing women with access to coverage for contraception, while respecting religious considerations raised by non-profit organizations and closely held for-profit companies.”
The plan for accommodating not-for-profit groups is an interim final rule and takes effect immediately. Both of the modifications, however, are open to comments from interested parties for 60 days. HHS is specifically seeking guidance on how to identify which businesses qualify as closely held companies under the Hobby Lobby ruling. Publicly traded companies are still required to provide contraceptive coverage.
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, insurers are required to cover preventive care, which HHS concluded should include all FDA-approved contraception. The Obama administration has made an exception to the contraception requirement for churches and other houses of worship.
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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President