“Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health” – President Obama
That’s the ideal that MergerWatch has always fought to achieve in our work with communities facing the imposition of Catholic health care restrictions through hospital consolidations.
So, it was great to hear President Barack Obama affirm that principle today as he announced a new approach to making sure employees of Catholic-affiliated hospitals will get contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act!
The administration’s new approach lifts the proposed requirement that Catholic hospitals, colleges, social services agencies and other religiously-affiliated employers directly provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. Instead, employees of those institutions will get their contraceptive coverage directly from the insurance companies that are providing their employee health coverage – and at no additional cost. Insurance companies recognize that they actually save money by offering contraceptive coverage, because it avoids more costly pregnancy care.
For employees of many religiously-sponsored hospitals and universities, this will mean contraceptive coverage for the first time! The accommodation Obama announced should remove the threatened refusal by these employers to comply with the birth control mandate that had been announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in late January.
We do have some questions about what will happen at Catholic institutions that self-insure, and we will be watching carefully to make sure the new approach does not inadvertently introduce hurdles and delays into the process of securing contraceptive coverage.
But for now, we are seeing an end to a week that was quite a roller coaster ride, after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began an offensive attack against the HHS rule requiring employers - including religiously-affiliated hospitals and university - to provide its employees contraception coverage. On Monday, they threatened to drop employee coverage if forced to comply with the rule. By Thursday, they were calling for the rescinding of the rule entirely, putting contraception coverage without co-pays for millions of women at risk.
The debate drew in everyone with a stake in the matter: Catholic hospitals, women’s health advocates, progressive religious leaders, GOP presidential candidates and members of Congress. The new “work-around” approach removes the requirement that Catholic institutions actually pay for contraceptive coverage for their employees, thus addressing the “religious liberty” objection that had been raised. The preventative women’s health services that are included remain the same: well-women visits, cancer screenings, domestic violence screenings and all forms of birth control devices.