Obama Admin Proposes Changes to Birth Control Mandate for Self-Insured Religious Organizations

Religious organizations may not be required to provide coverage for contraception, sterilization and some abortifacient drugs if a proposed change, issued Friday afternoon by three cabinet departments, goes into effect.

The "advance notice of proposed rulemaking" (ANPR) issued by the Departments of Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services says that the proposed amendments would "establish alternative ways to fulfill" the birth control mandate requirements for "a religious organization that objects to the coverage of contraceptive services for religious reasons."

The document also serves as a request for public comment. Comments must be submitted within 90 days.

Concerns have been expressed that the birth control mandate violates religious liberty because institutions with religious and moral objections to contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs would have to pay for those services.

In an attempt to allay those concerns, President Barack Obama gave a speech on Feb. 10 saying that religious organizations that do not qualify for the narrowly-drafted religious exemption would not have to pay for those services, but insurance companies must offer it to their employees without charging a co-pay or increasing their premium.

Some religious organizations objected to this proposal on several grounds. They have argued that the religious organizations would still pay for the services through higher premiums, the services they find morally objectionable would be provided to their employees through their insurance carrier, and those that self-insure would have to provide the objectionable coverage themselves. This proposed rule is intended to address the concern about self-insured religious organizations.

The ANPR suggests that a "third-party administrator" or "some other independent entity" would be required to assume the responsibility to provide birth control coverage.

The White House has been hosting meetings with some of the religious organizations that have objections to the mandate, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, and World Vision.

The ANPR also asks for "new ideas to inform the next stage of the rulemaking process."

The birth control mandate will go into effect Aug. 1, 2012.

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