If you are a regular reader of this blog or if you follow news about reproductive health then you are probably aware that last summer the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would include contraceptives as preventative care. This means that health insurance plans must cover contraceptives without a co-pay for all new and renewed plans as of August 2012. This is a huge step forward for reproductive health because it means everyone with health insurance will have access to their preferred method of birth control with no out-of-pocket expenses. This means more people will be able to prevent unintended pregnancy without straining their bank accounts.
Since the decision was made the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and other anti-contraception religious groups have been lobbying to get a broad exemption included that would allow workplaces that are run by religious groups but that employ or service people who do not participate in that religion to purchase plans that DO NOT include contraceptive coverage. For example a school owned/operated by the Catholic Church would be able to deny its employees coverage for birth control as well as refuse to provide it to their students through an on campus health center or student insurance program. This is in spite of the fact most professors and students are the school are not Catholic themselves.
Many liberals and groups that support greater access to contraception have been lobbying just as hard to ensure that the exemption doesn’t go through so that the people who work for this institutions would not lose their access to no co-pay birth control. On January 20th, their hard work has been rewarded because the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would NOT expand the exemption. As it stands only groups that employ predominantly members of that religion are allowed to have plans that do not cover contraceptives. This means that the local Catholic Church itself can choose to not provide birth control to its direct employees but the hospital it is running must provide it to the people who work there.
The DHHS has included a one year extension to religious groups that are currently not providing coverage but that will be required to cover it in the future. The extension will not apply to any groups that are already providing some kind of coverage for contraceptives. While the extension will cover any schools/universities that don’t currently offer contraceptives it will not included the students. Schools must begin to supply their students with birth control through health centers and insurance plans. Any employer who takes advantage of the delay must also provide their employees with information regarding local resources where they can obtain low cost birth control until their insurance coverage begins.