Under Trump’s advisement, federal officials have drafted a rule creating a massive loophole for employers to bypass the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring health insurance plans provided to employees to include contraception coverage. The draft, published by Vox, still requires said coverage, but greatly widens the scope exemption by allowing for anyone to issue claims of religious or moral objection in order to bypass the mandate.
After the 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, “closely held” private businesses were added to the list, along with houses of worship and religiously affiliated hospitals and universities, of exempted entities. Initially, the excused employers were asked to file paperwork that, in turn, would have the providing health insurer stepping in to pay for the contraception. Some religious groups responded to the task by arguing the mere act of filing paper work shows they condone and support the usage of the birth control their employee is receiving, while not directly from the company’s wallet.
The legal challenges over the issue left the Supreme Court to ask the federal government and disagreeing organizations to come to a compromise. Unfortunately, a compromise was not reached during the Obama administration.
The introduction of the new rule would invite anyone with moral or religious objections to file for exemption, despite a 2016 poll showing broad support for mandated contraception coverage. In response to public disapproval and concern, Senators penned a letter to Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney. The letter accurately highlights the economic need women have for birth control coverage, “Women saved more than $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs for birth control in 2013 alone. Access to affordable preventative services including contraception is a critical part of women’s health care, as well as an economic priority for many women.” The Senators’ commentary provides important insight to the strong connection between affordable healthcare access and economic equality.
Within the drafted rule, there is no notification to the federal government necessary by those seeking exemption. The rule only requires explicit language in health care documents as well as notification to employees if there are changes to their currently provided benefits.
In a statement released by the Feminist Majority, President Eleanor Smeal addresses the overt disregard for a woman’s bodily autonomy, stating, “Millions of women rely on access to no-copay and no-deductible birth control through their employers, and for students through their university. Broadening the exemption would allow any employer with a “moral” objection to opt out of coverage, sending a clear message to women in America: your body does not belong to you.”
Vox’s breaking report on the issue focuses on the importance of contraception coverage as a key factor to working women’s economic freedom, “More than 20 percent of US women of childbearing age had to pay money out of pocket for oral contraceptives prior to the Obamacare mandate, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That shrunk to less than 4 percent a few years after the mandate took effect.”
Media Outlets: Vox 05/31/2017, Pew Research Center 09/27/2016; United States Senate 05/25/2017; Kaiser Family Foundation 01/09/2017;