Obama Administration Announces Further Exemptions for Religious Organizations from Contraceptive Mandate


Today, February 10, 2012, President Obama held a press conference to announce a revised policy to enable qualifying religious employers to not offer contraceptive coverage under their health insurance plan based on their organization’s religious beliefs, but instead will allow women covered under their employer’s plan to obtain free contraception coverage directly from their insurance companies if their employers don’t provide such coverage otherwise.

This is a modification of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announcement made on January 20, 2012 where we notified you that HHS was declining to broaden an exemption for mandatory contraception coverage for religious employers, other than to provide an additional year for such organizations to comply with current regulatory mandates. In response to vocal opposition, the administration has now announced that it will implement a new policy to address concerns of religious organizations but also enforce its prior regulation issued in August 2011 that requires most health insurance plans to cover preventive services for women including recommended contraceptive services without charging a co-pay, co-insurance, or a deductible. This afternoon HHS issued Final Regulations which did not materially change its prior interim regulations issued in August 2011. Click here for a copy of the Final Regulations.

According to the President in his press conference and to a fact sheet issued today by the White House, the new regulation will require insurance companies to cover contraception if the non-exempted religious organization chooses not to provide such coverage under its health plan. Insurance companies are then required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.

Impact to Employers

Other than the issuance of Final Regulations as noted above, no other guidance has been issued. Moreover, the current announcement makes no mention of what, if any, impact today’s ruling has on self-insured group health plans of religious employers (where there is no “insurance company” to provide contraceptive coverage outside of the employer’s plan). Likewise, there are no details on how contraception coverage will be funded by the insurance carriers without that cost being absorbed at some point by the underlying employer or employee in future rate increases.

The attorneys in the Polsinelli Shughart Employee Benefits group will continue to monitor the status of this announcement and provide further updates with additional information as necessary.

For More Information

If you have any questions about what this ruling means for your organization, please contact one of the Employee Benefits practice group members.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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