White House proposal seeks to quell objections to birth control coverage

March 17, 2012
By Noam N. Levey / Tribune Washington Bureau

The Obama administration moved Friday to further insulate religiously affiliated hospitals and universities from paying for birth control for their female employees if they object to providing the coverage on moral grounds.

The new proposal, which follows a compromise announced by President Barack Obama last month, seeks to quell lingering objections from religious groups about a provision in the new health care law requiring employers to offer women contraceptive coverage without co-payments or other cost-sharing.

Under fire from leading Catholic hospitals and other institutions, the administration has proposed shifting the cost of providing birth control coverage onto insurance companies, while prohibiting those insurers from passing the additional cost onto employers.

But it was unclear what this would mean for large, religiously affiliated employers that self-insure rather than hire an insurance company to assume the risk of providing health benefits to their employees.

In a notice released Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services suggested these self-insured employers could pass the cost of the contraceptive coverage to whoever administers their health benefits. Large employers typically contract with an insurance company to handle billing and other administrative tasks associated with providing health benefits.

These administrators would then use funds from other sources, such as rebates they might receive from drug makers, to offset the cost of the contraceptive benefit, according to administration officials.

The administration also suggested that new national health plans to be set up under the law could be required to offer supplemental contraceptive coverage to employees of religiously affiliated employers.

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