On Feb. 1, 2013, the Obama administration announced an update to its proposed contraception coverage policy under the healthcare law. The update comes in response to an uproar created by some religiously affiliated organizations and anti-contraception activists. The bottom line of the new policy is that women still get contraception coverage at no additional cost, no matter where they work. Religious organizations that object to covering it don’t have to pay for it. For example, if a woman works for a religious charity, hospital, or university that has a religious objection to covering contraception, an insurer will still provide coverage to her at no additional cost.
The philosophy underlying the update is to affirm that religious liberty and protecting women’s health are both core American values that need not be in conflict.
Just to clarify: Under the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare), all churches and houses of worship continue to be—and always have been—exempt from covering contraception. What’s new in the updated policy is that religious-affiliated organizations, such as hospitals, charities and universities, do not have to provide birth control if they object. [Click here for a detailed fact sheet on the contraceptive policy update.]
So, under the policy update, who will pay for birth-control coverage, if it’s not provided by the exempt organization? The insurance companies, health-insurance issuers for group health plans, and third party administrators of self-insured health plans [meaning, large employers that fund their own healthcare.]
Response to the policy update has been mostly positive. While the Catholic Health Association is reported to be evaluating the improvements, organizations that have already stated their support include Catholics United, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the National Partnership for Women & Families, and the National Women’s Law Center.
The Obama administration’s outlook on contraception is in line with demonstrated healthcare history and public opinion. Studies show that nearly 99 percent of women have relied on contraception during their lives, but more than half of women between 18 and 34 have struggled to afford it. In addition, public-opinion polling shows that seven in 10 Americans believe that health insurance companies should be required to cover the full cost of birth control, just as they do for other preventive services.
On a personal note, I’m among both of those groups, and while I see reproductive freedom as a human right that, in a perfect world, wouldn’t be up for negotiation, I still applaud the Obama administration for listening to other viewpoints and developing a solution that respects the concerns of both sides.
Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of progressive values as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.