New rules for contraception mandate

Religious organizations have objected to the Obamacare requirement that the health insurance they give their employees must provide for free contraception and morning-after-pills.  Now the Obama administration has issued new rules for how those organizations can sort-of opt out of the mandate, while still providing free contraception and morning-after-pills.

From CNN:

The Obama administration finalized rules on Friday that allow religious-affiliated organizations opposing the use of contraception to opt out of a federal mandate requiring that they provide their employees with insurance coverage for birth control.

The mandates give women at nonprofit, religious-based organizations, like certain hospitals and universities, the ability to receive contraception through separate health policies at no charge.

The rules, which were first proposed in February and then open for comment through April, have undergone only minor changes. Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, deputy director for policy and regulations at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a call with reporters that the rules were “very similar” to the administration’s original proposal.

One of the few noticeable changes is the process by which insurance companies reimburse nonprofit religious organizations — such as nonprofit religious hospitals and institutions of higher education — that object to contraceptive coverage. This process, officials from HHS said, has provided more distance between the groups that disapprove of contraceptive use and the insurance companies that will be supplying contraceptives to their employees at no cost.

These slight changes, said one HHS representative, came after hearing from stakeholders during a public comment period this year. In total, more than 400,000 comments were sent to the department on the rule.

Objecting organizations and insurers will have until January 1, 2014, to comply with the new rules. This date was extended from August 1, 2013. . . .

As part of the new rules, groups that are insured — such as with student health plans at religious colleges — would be required to let their insurer know that certain participants would like contraception coverage.

Because the insurer would be covering the costs, the changes would allow religious organizations morally opposed to contraception to avoid paying for it. . . .

An original mandate on providing contraception was part of the new federal health care law spearheaded by President Obama, the Affordable Care Act. It required that insurers provide, at no cost to those insured, all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Houses of worship were exempt immediately, and the administration widened those exemptions last year to include other religiously affiliated organizations, like universities and hospitals.

That still left groups across a wide spectrum of faiths — many of which teach that contraception is morally wrong — covered by the mandate. They denounced it as an infringement on religious liberty. A group of 43 Catholic organizations challenged the rules in federal court in May. . . .

The finalized proposal also clarified the definition of a religious employer.

Instead of using a multipart test that required an employer to show “religious values as its purpose” and to “employ persons who share its religious tenets,” the proposal followed the Internal Revenue Code’s definition that includes “churches, other houses of worship, and their affiliated organizations.”

via Finalized rules let religious groups opt out of contraception mandate – CNN.com.

Huh?  What about parachurch organizations that aren’t affiliated with a specific “church”?

Do you think this takes care of the problem?  Or is it just an application of a legalistic technicality that only a legalist could love?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.