Saturday, January 21, 2012

HHS Reacts To Comments On Required Contraception Coverage By 1-Year Conscience Extension

Last August, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a controversial interim final rule (full text) under the Affordable Care Act requiring that contraceptive services (all contraceptive methods, sterilization and counseling) be covered by most insurance policies without deductibles or co-pays. (Rule summary). The rule exempted from this requirement only those non-profit religious employers whose primary purpose is the inculcation of religious values and which also both employ and serve only individuals who share the groups' religious tenets.  That exemption was criticized by a number of religious groups as being too narrow. (See prior posting.) Yesterday, in a news release, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that after reviewing comments submitted on the interim final rule, it has decided to change it only by giving an additional year (until Aug. 1, 2013) for compliance to non-profit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops quickly issued a release quoting spokesmen who asserted: "In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences" and called the decision "nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights." The New York Times reports on the HHS decision and reactions of other groups.