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New Obama birth control fixes for religious groups

By From page A1 | August 23, 2014

WASHINGTON — Seeking to quell a politically charged controversy, the Obama administration announced new measures Friday to allow religious nonprofits and some companies to opt out of paying for birth control for female employees while still ensuring those employees have access to contraception.

Even so, the accommodations may not fully satisfy religious groups who oppose any system that makes them complicit in providing coverage they believe is immoral.

Effective immediately, the U.S. will start allowing faith-affiliated charities, colleges and hospitals to notify the government — rather than their insurers — that they object to birth control on religious grounds.

A previous accommodation offered by the Obama administration allowed those nonprofits to avoid paying for birth control by sending their insurers a document called Form 700, which transfers responsibility for paying for birth control from the employer to the insurer. But Roman Catholic bishops and other religious plaintiffs argued just submitting that form was like signing a permission slip to engage in evil.

In a related move, the administration announced plans to allow for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby Inc. to start using Form 700. The Supreme Court ruled in June that the government can’t force companies like Hobby Lobby to pay for birth control, sending the administration scrambling for a way to ensure their employees can still get birth control one way or another at no added cost.

The dual decisions mark the Obama administration’s latest effort to address a long-running conflict that has pitted the White House against churches and other religious groups. The dispute has sparked dozens of legal challenges, fueling an election-year debate about whether religious liberty should trump a woman’s access to health care options.

“Today’s announcement reinforces our commitment to providing women with access to coverage for contraception, while respecting religious considerations raised by nonprofit organizations and closely held for-profit companies,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

Yet the latest proposals will likely run up against the same objections, because they still enable employees to receive contraception through their health plans — one of a range of preventive services required under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“We will be studying the new rule with our clients, but if today’s announcement is just a different way for the government to hijack the health plans of religious ministries, it is unlikely to end the litigation,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The fund has represented both Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College, an evangelical school whose case also made its way to the Supreme Court.

Days after the high court ruled in late June in Hobby Lobby’s favor, the justices delivered another blow to the Obama administration by siding with religious nonprofits like Wheaton who said filling out Form 700 wasn’t an acceptable accommodation and still constituted a violation of their religious freedom.

The new fixes unveiled Friday appear to embrace suggestions included in both of the Supreme Court rulings.

In the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Samuel Alito suggested in the majority opinion that one solution would be to offer the Form 700 option to some for-profit companies. And in the Wheaton case, the court said the college could avoid Form 700 while the case is being appealed by instead sending a simple letter to the government indicating its objections.

Yet that temporary fix for Wheaton exempted the college from covering contraception altogether. Under the new accommodation, sending the letter will prompt the government to instruct a nonprofit’s insurer or third-party administrators to take on the responsibility of paying for the birth control, at no cost to the employer. As with Form 700, the government will reimburse the insurers through credits against fees owed under other parts of the health law.

The administration’s hope is that the new accommodation will be more palatable because it creates more distance between religious nonprofits and the health services they oppose, by inserting the government as a middleman between nonprofits and their insurers. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., an advocate for birth control access, said that Obama had “bent over backwards” to accommodate religious groups and called for those organizations to drop their opposition.

But social conservatives scoffed, with the Family Research Council dismissing the new fix as an “insulting accounting gimmick.” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the church was disappointed because the administration hadn’t backed off its insistence that employer-provided plans still offer coverage the church deems objectionable.

The Form 700 alternative will require religious nonprofits to send the government a letter that includes the organization’s name, the type of health plan they offer, and the name and contact information for their insurance issuers or third-party administrators, officials said. Groups must also explain which types of birth control they object to and state the objection is based on sincerely held beliefs.

The accommodation aimed at for-profit companies will apply only to “closely held” corporations, such as Hobby Lobby, that are owned by families or a small number of investors. The government is asking for the public’s input about how narrowly to define a “closely held” corporation, meaning the specifics won’t be finalized for many months.

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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Discussion | 13 comments

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  • JimboAugust 22, 2014 - 5:35 pm

    Think this is about religion and abortion? Hobby Lobby owner David Green was just fine including birth control in employee health plans UP UNTIL THE MOMENT OBAMACARE REQUIRED IT.

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  • Dave ShreeveAugust 23, 2014 - 8:52 am

    Wrong Jimbo! They drew the line at having to include abortafacients with the other types of birth control their employee insurance coverage was already providing. Obamacare required the abortafacients.

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  • Dave ShreeveAugust 23, 2014 - 8:56 am

    Here we go again with another misleading AP article that the DR fails to edit to make it more accurate and fair. The Hobby Lobby case was not about not wanting to pay for insurance coverage for birth control, it was about being forced to provide for abortafacients along with the other birth control options provided for in their coverage. This AP article never mentions that.

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  • Mr. PracticalAugust 23, 2014 - 11:22 am

    The root cause is bad law. The Affordable Care Act should have never mandated benefits that should remain optional. They should have seen this coming. It wouldn't surprise me if they didn't intend this to occur as part of a larger agenda.

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  • Mr. PracticalAugust 23, 2014 - 11:23 am

    ...did intend this to occur...

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  • The SugarJarAugust 23, 2014 - 5:20 am

    If these churches (and so on) have employees, and they pay the employees with money, isn't that like a permission slip to spend the money on things that may be unapproved by the church?

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  • Mr. PracticalAugust 23, 2014 - 11:28 am

    Sugar Jar, the portion the employer contributes to an employee health plan is at no time ever the employees money. It's 100% an expense of the employer and the employer should have control. Employers should not be mandated to provide health insurance and if they do, they should have control over what that plan consists of. The employee can opt in or opt out.

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  • The SugarJarAugust 23, 2014 - 11:45 am

    Mr. Practical, it is part of the benefit. It would be smoother if healthcare was separate from employment.

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  • The SugarJarAugust 23, 2014 - 11:52 am

    Another part is the compensation. Perhaps there should be an agreement between the employer and employee on appropriate morally correct spending. How must it make the employer feel to know that money could be spent immorally?

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  • Mr. PracticalAugust 23, 2014 - 12:04 pm

    Sugar, it's two different things. The employer contribution to the healthplan, again, does not belong to the employee. The benefit, once received, belongs to the employee. The employer should have complete control over the benefit offered. The employee can choose to receive it or opt out and purchase healthcare on their own. A paycheck is, once they receive it is theirs to do with what they choose. That would be no business of the employer.

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  • Mr. PracticalAugust 23, 2014 - 11:58 am

    It's not a benefit until the employee agrees to it. It should be up to the employer what type of health plan they want to offer, if any at all. Other than the overall cost of healthcare, which the new law did virtually nothing to address, insurance in the workplace was working fine. It was the individual market that was a problem. Require coverage for pre-existing conditions and no cap on lifetime benefits should have been done decades ago. Those are the only good pieces of the ACA. All that being said, we would be better off if healthcare were removed from the workplace entirely. It's the biggest cause of healthcare costs increasing and the administration adds substantial costs to businesses, which effects the consumer in the end.

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  • AnonymousAugust 23, 2014 - 5:23 am

    Ignorance. There are laws that make pornography legal too but religious folk or some of them anyway don't partake. It sickens me that churches think they have the right to force THEIR will on others when God gave freewill. Imagine if their "Saint" David had used birthcontrol a man might not have been murdered as well as an illegitimate child. Thank God those two daughters that got their dad drunk to get pregnant by him in the BIBLE didn't believe in birthcontrol. Give me a break, signing a form is immoral? Hello, this from a church that covered up Priests abusing kids. It's no wonder church attendance is down. It's birthcontrol a God given choice to use or not use (freewill), if they have their way women would be stripped of all rights including voting and go back to the days of back alley abortions. Sex is not evil except in the context that the Catholic church covered the sins of their Priests. Political propaganda that will merely ensure Hillary is the next President. Tell them to pound sand - they act more like dictators and cult leaders than any other group.

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  • DanielAugust 23, 2014 - 7:25 am

    The Obama presidency has failed in every single other account, but they're adamant of forcing certain Americans (including tax-payers) to pay for condoms. Their poster child Sandra "free condoms" Fluke is symbolic of the "war on women" that they manufactured to garner votes for condoms from women. It's amazing that alleged women libbers fall for it especially when one of the Demo leaders is the workplace intern molester and serial philander Bill "Elvis" Clinton. The Demos have a lowly opinion of our intelligence believing that we can't see through their nonsense.

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