Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services announced today the Obama Administration will not broaden the religious exemption for contraceptive coverage under the Preventive Care package of the Affordable Care Act. This request, primarily by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, would have denied millions of American women contraceptive coverage, including students, teachers, nurses, social workers, and other staff (and their families) at religiously-connected or associated schools, universities, and hospitals, as well as institutions, such as Catholic Charities.
Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, stated, “This is a landmark victory for the health of young women. We applaud this decision for women by Secretary Sebelius and the Obama Administration. Birth control is the number one prescription drug for women ages 18 to 44 years. Right now, the average woman has to pay $50 per month for 30 years for birth control. No wonder many low income women have had to forgo regular use of birth control and half of US pregnancies are unplanned. This decision will help millions of women and their families.”
Insurance plans that cover employers and employees must cover contraception with no co-pays or deductibles starting August 2012, and non-profit religious institutions under this new rule that do not currently cover contraception must do so with no copays or deductibles beginning August 2013. Moreover, student insurance plans at religiously affiliated universities must cover contraception with no co-pays or deductibles beginning August 2012. Only women who work directly for a house of worship, such as for a church, synagogue, or mosque itself, are exempted from this required coverage.
Women’s rights and pro-choice groups, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and NARAL Pro-Choice America, urged the Obama Administration not to consider the broader religious exemption.
In August, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new guidelines, developed by the Institute of Medicine, that will require private insurance plans under the Preventive Care package of the Affordable Care Act beginning on or after August 1, 2012 to cover without co-pays or deductibles a variety of services, such as an annual well-woman visit and cancer screenings, counseling, such as for domestic and interpersonal violence, and testing for HIV and STIs, as well as all FDA-approved contraceptives, breastfeeding support, lactation services, and supplies.