Obama offers new religious opt-out for HHS mandate—UPDATED WITH REACTION

From AP: 

The Obama administration is announcing a broader opt-out for religious nonprofits that object to providing health insurance that covers birth control.

The administration is allowing religious nonprofits to offer coverage that does not include contraception. In such a case, a third-party issuer will handle all business related to providing birth-control coverage for women, according to a source familiar with the changes who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Our own Frank Weathers has been keeping an eye on CNN, which says:

The administration is expected to detail how it will handle two of the more controversial situations, said a source familiar with Friday’s announcement.

“Religiously affiliated organizations will be given the option of exempting themselves from the requirement of providing their employees with contraceptive access or service that they are morally opposed to,” said the source.

A spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department refused to comment on the expected policy announcement.

If an institution opts out of paying for contraceptive coverage, individual employees will get coverage through a third entity. That separate exchange, said the source, would be paid for by the insurance company.

The second proposal would address self-insurers, organizations that are large enough to pay for their own health care costs, such as a large Catholic diocese.

Those groups, according to the source, will be exempt from having to provide contraceptives, but their employees would be allowed access to contraceptive coverage through other means.

And Elizabeth has the first fact sheet on the opt-out.

Frank has the press release and more details. 

UPDATE: The USCCB statement:

In response to today’s release of revised regulations for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, provided the following statement on behalf of the USCCB.

“Today, the Administration issued proposed regulations regarding the HHS mandate. We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”

MORE REACTION:

From Bill Donohue: 

The rules proposed today by HHS appear to go a long way toward rectifying the most problematic provisions of the mandate. Essentially, the rules provide insularity for Catholic institutions: they will not be directly involved in providing health insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Perhaps the most welcome aspect of the new strictures is the elimination of the criteria that define what constitutes a religious institution. Gone altogether is the highly objectionable definition that excludes an exemption for those religious entities that hire and serve mostly people of other religions. As has been pointed out many times, this definition punishes Catholic institutions for not discriminating against Jews, Protestants, Muslims, Mormons, agnostics, and atheists.

The new rules now simply revert to the established understanding of a religious employer as defined by the IRS. This makes eminently good sense.

Still unresolved is the issue of private employers who invoke a religious objection to providing insurance coverage for services they deem morally objectionable. Because the new rules have not been finalized, and there is an opportunity for further public discussion, more progress may yet be made.

While many aspects of the new proposal need to be examined before a final conclusion can be rendered, the decision to expand religious exemptions, and to adopt the IRS definition of a religious institution, is a sign of goodwill by the Obama administration toward the Catholic community.

Thomas Reese, SJ:

HHS and the administration have gone out of their way to resolve the concerns of religious institutions that object to covering contraceptives in their insurance programs. They fixed the four-part definition of religious employer by eliminating the confusing first three parts and relied on the traditional definition of churches in the Internal Revenue Code. They have also found creative ways to provide contraceptives to the employees of religious colleges and hospitals without the involvement of these institutions.

Thomas Peters at CatholicVote.org: 

This new compromise, like all the old ones before it, makes some progress but still does not go far enough — i.e., the government’s policy is still in violation of our right to enjoy the full expression of religious freedom under the First Amendment.

The biggest problem is that these new (80-page!) regulations still force private businesses (like Hobby Lobby) and business owners to pay for contraceptive (and abortifacient) coverage in their employee’s health plans. Once again the Obama administration is claiming to have the authority to decide who is entitled to have a religiously-formed conscience and who is (supposedly) not entitled to religious freedom.

American Life League:

If this president is a so-called constitutional scholar-as his supporters in the media portray him-then his law school should be embarrassed. In 80 pages of legalese and gobbledygook, this administration fails to recognize the constitutionally protected freedom of conscience that all Americans-not just religious organizations as defined by the IRS-are guaranteed in their personal lives and in the workplace.

EWTN: 

We have analyzed today’s notice with our legal team from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the initial conclusions are not promising. First, this is simply a notice of a proposed rule; it is not an actual rule that changes anything. Second, while the proposed rules might expand the mandate’s religious exemption for some organizations affiliated directly with the Church, it does not appear that EWTN will qualify for this exemption. Third, the proposed rules have not dealt with the concerns of self-insured health plans like EWTN’s. Today’s notice from the government simply kicks this can further down the road.

Catholics United:

Today we witnessed a rare political victory: a new accommodation that should keep all sides happy. The Department of Health and Human Services announced today that they are making an addition to their current exemption to the contraceptive mandate. HHS is further accommodating religious organizations that provide health insurance for employees, while at the same time ensuring that women will receive the full healthcare benefits that they deserve.

Susan B. Anthony List: 

Once again, President Obama’s so-called ‘compromise’ is unacceptable – religious and moral freedom is not up for negotiation. There must be no religious ‘test’ by the government as to who, and what type of entities, are entitled to a conscience.  We demand respect for non-religious entities such as the Susan B. Anthony List that recognize the taking of human life is the antithesis of health care.  Government policy under our constitution, history and statutory law has recognized the right of citizens to be free from government compulsion of conscience on such fundamental matters. The only acceptable outcome is the complete repeal of the HHS mandate and the restoration of a thriving marketplace where Americans can choose health care coverage consistent with their beliefs.


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