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President Obama announced a plan today that attempts to accommodate religious employers opposed to a rule that would require them to provide access to birth control for women free of charge.
Obama announced that the rule would be tweaked, so in cases where non-profit religious organizations have objections, their insurance companies will be required to reach out to employees and offer the coverage directly.
“Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive service no matter where they work,” Obam said. “That core principle remains. But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan. The insurance company – not the hospital not the charity – will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge without co-pays, without hassle.”
With that distinction, Obama said those organizations won’t have to provide the coverage, pay for it or refer their employees to it. The requirement will rest with insurers.
Officials said they always had planned on working with religious institutions to get the mandate right, but they moved up their timetable after hearing vehement objections from the Catholic church and others. The change is loosely based on a regulation in effect in Hawaii.
The administration announced last month that religious-affiliated employers had to cover birth control as preventive care for women. Churches and houses of worship were exempt, but all other affiliated organizations were ordered to comply by August 2013.
The White House received backlash to the measure from Catholic clergy as well as Republican leaders this week.
A senior administration official, who asked for anonymity because he spoke before the president’s announcement, bristled at the suggestion that the new plan was a compromise.
“We’re sticking to principle in terms of guaranteeing free contraceptive coverage for women,” said the official.
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