The Obama administration on Friday issued its final rules for employers who morally object to covering birth control in their health insurance plans. The accommodation ensures that all employed women, unless they work for a place of worship, will still have their birth control covered at no cost to them, even if their employers refuse to cover it.
Under the new rule, a closely held for-profit company that objects to covering contraception in its health plan can write a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services stating its objection. HHS will then notify a third-party insurer of the company's objection, and the insurer will provide birth control coverage to the company's female employees at no additional cost to the company.
“Women across the country should have access to preventive services, including contraception,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. “At the same time, we recognize the deeply held views on these issues, and we are committed to securing women’s access to important preventive services at no additional cost under the Affordable Care Act, while respecting religious beliefs.”
The Affordable Care Act, as originally written, required all employers except for places of worship to cover the full range of contraception, including intrauterine devices and the morning-after pill, in their insurance plans at no out-of-pocket cost to women. Since the law went into effect in 2012, it has saved women $1.4 billion on birth control pills.
The contraception mandate carved out an accommodation for religious non-profits, such as Catholic schools and hospitals, but some for-profit companies run by religious people sued the administration because they felt the law violated their beliefs about contraception. The Evangelical Christian owners of the craft chain store Hobby Lobby, for instance, believe certain forms of contraception are akin to abortion because they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterus.
The Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby last summer and said the administration must provide an accommodation for religious-owned "closely held" companies, or companies in which five or fewer people are majority owners. The compromise issued on Friday was the administration's response to the high court's decision.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) expressed frustration on Friday that the White House had to accommodate the religious objections of for-profit companies in the first place, adding that she is working on a legislative fix to override the Supreme Court's ruling.
“Only a year has passed since five male justices told American women their health care decisions and benefits are their boss’s business," Murray said. "Already, we’ve seen employers across the country deny women access to health insurance benefits they have earned, and threaten a worker’s right to make their own autonomous decisions about everything from vaccinations to HIV treatment.
"In the 21st century, women should be able to make their own decisions about their own bodies—and no one should have to ask their boss for permission to get the health care they need. I’m committing to continuing to fight, along with the Administration and all my colleagues, to fix this Supreme Court-issued license to discriminate and protect the rights of women and families across our country.”