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HHS Mandate: Religious Non-Profits Need Only Write a Letter to Object

ALETEIA/Jeffrey Bruno

John Burger - published on 07/13/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Will not need to fill out form that was seen as cooperating in evil

The Obama Administration has presented an alternative way for religious non-profits that object to facilitating health insurance coverage of contraception to inform the government of its objections. 

New rules announced on Friday say that employers and religious nonprofits can register their objections by sending a letter to the government or by sending a federal form directly to their insurers and the companies that administer their health plans.

The move was in response to lawsuits on behalf of Catholic and other non-profits who say the only way for them to opt out was by filing a form that, they say, is effectively the trigger for female employees to be provided with the coverage. That, they maintain, is for them a form of cooperation in the act of providing contraception.

The health care law requires most employers to cover birth control as preventive care, at no cost to women. While houses of worship are exempt, the requirement proved controversial with religious nonprofits and private businesses whose owners have deeply held beliefs.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that some private companies can avoid the requirement on religious grounds. Companies and religious non-profits can opt out of providing or paying for contraceptive coverage, but their insurance carriers must make separate payments for contraceptives, so women would still have access to them, and insurers could be reimbursed by the government.

A statement from the Department of Health and Human Services said July 10:

These rules allow these eligible organizations to notify HHS in writing of their religious objection to providing contraception coverage, as an alternative to filling out the form provided by the Department of Labor to provide to their issuer or third-party administrator. HHS and the Department of Labor will then notify insurers and third party administrators of the organization’s objection so that enrollees in plans of such organizations receive separate payments for contraceptive services, with no additional cost to the enrollee or organization, and no involvement by the organization.

Also, in response to the 2014 Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, HHS and the Departments of Labor and Treasury issued final rules that provide accommodations to closely held for-profit entities that object to providing contraceptives on religious grounds. 

People on both sides of the highly divisive issue were not entirely happy with the announcement. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public-interest law firm advancing the free expression of religious, has defended organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor. It characterized the Administration’s latest move as continuing to try to "force religious nonprofits…to help distribute contraceptives, including the “week-after pill.”  

"Today’s announcement comes after multiple losses in contraceptive mandate cases at the Supreme Court, including last year’s Hobby Lobby decision and Court decisions regarding the Little Sisters of the Poor and Wheaton College," the Fund said in a press release. "In fact, just last week the Supreme Court ordered the government not to enforce this rule against Catholic organizations from Pennsylvania, marking the government’s sixth loss in a row at the Supreme Court regarding the mandate. There are now four petitions before the Supreme Court asking the Court to finally resolve the issue by June 2016."

Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the senior Democrat on the Senate health committee, said the new rules allowed a wide range of businesses to have “power over the health care decisions of the women they employ,” the New York Times reported. The rules, she said, show why “the Supreme Court’s deeply harmful ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is completely unacceptable.”

She is planning to introduce legislation to override the court decision. 

ContraceptionReligious Freedom
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