The Biden administration wants to make it easier for women to access birth control at no cost under the Affordable Care Act, reversing Trump-era rules that weakened the law’s contraceptive mandate for employer-provided health insurance plans.
The proposed rule, unveiled Monday by the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury, would remove an exemption to the mandate that allows employers to opt out for moral convictions. It would also create an independent pathway for individuals enrolled in plans offered by employers with religious exemptions to access contraceptive services through a willing provider without charge.
The proposed rule would leave in place the existing religious exemption for employers with objections, as well as the optional accommodation for contraceptive coverage.
The administration crafted the proposed rule keeping in mind the concerns of employers with religious objections and the contraceptive needs of their workers, a senior HHS official told CNN.
“We had to really think through how to do this in the right way to satisfy both sides, but we think we found that way,” the official said, stressing that there should be no effect on religiously affiliated employers.
Students at religiously affiliated colleges would have access to the expanded accommodation, just like workers in group health plans where the employer has claimed the exemption.
Now that the proposed rule has been announced, the public will have the opportunity to comment during the next few months. Officials expect there to be many thousands of public comments, and it will be “many months” before the rule could be finalized.
HHS expects the proposal would affect more than 100 employers and 125,000 workers, mainly through providing the proposed independent pathway for employees to receive no-cost contraception.
Women using that pathway would obtain their birth control from a participating provider, who would be reimbursed by an insurer on the Affordable Care Act exchanges. The insurer, in turn, would receive a credit on the user fee it pays the government.
“If this rule is finalized, individuals who have health plans that would otherwise be subject to the ACA preventive services requirements but have not covered contraceptive services because of a moral or religious objection, and for which the sponsoring employer or college or university has not elected the optional accommodation, would now have access,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a news release.
The requirement to provide no-cost contraception is not in the Affordable Care Act itself. Instead, HHS under former President Barack Obama included it as one of the women’s preventive services that all private insurance plans must offer without charge.
The mandate was controversial from the start, sparking lawsuits from religiously affiliated employers and closely held companies that said it…
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