Obama Administration Scrambling for Contraceptive Answers

Saturday, 05 Jul 2014 10:46 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Obama administration is looking for ways to provide contraceptives to women who are losing coverage or who never got coverage because of employers' religious beliefs, following two Supreme Court decisions this week.

Businesses are expected to rush in to file objections of their own after the court's rulings in the Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College cases approved religious exemptions from Obamacare's requirement that employer health insurance cover all forms of FDA-approved contraceptives, reports The New York Times.

About 100 other cases are pending, but more could be filed, say legal and healthcare experts.

The White House is studying ways to compel insurers or health plan administrators to provide coverage even if businesses will not pay for it, and work out details for reimbursement later, reports the Times.

"The government can find other ways to deliver contraceptives to people without forcing nuns and religious colleges to participate," Mark Rienzi, one of the attorneys representing both Hobby Lobby and Wheaton said.

The administration is also working to expand cost-free coverage for women who are not covered through their employers through an entitlement plan that could receive backlash politically and financially.

Nonprofit groups already are able to notify an insurer of their objections through an opt-out form that transfers the responsibility of free coverage back to others. But many of the groups say that notifying their insurers of objections still makes them part of a plan they consider morally objectionable.

Some religious beliefs consider all contraception to be wrong, while others object only to devices and drugs, such as the "morning-after pill" that some believe cause abortions. In the case of Wheaton College, school officials objected to filling out the necessary forms to object to providing coverage.

The court ruled that Wheaton could notify the government of its religious objections in writing instead of sending the opt-out form to its insurers, a difference that Justice Sonia Sotomayor objected to.

“Does the court intend for HHS to rely on the filing of lawsuits by every entity claiming an exemption?” she asked. She questioned whether the government was supposed to create “a database that tracks every employer’s insurer or third-party administrator nationwide.”

Justice Samuel Alito Jr., writing the majority opinion in the Hobby Lobby case, said he approves of the idea of shifting contraceptive costs to insurers for reimbursement, saying it is “an approach that is less restrictive than requiring employers to fund contraceptive methods that violate their religious beliefs.”

But insurers complain that the reimbursement plan may create a complex situation, as insurers have already had to foot such bills without being immediately reimbursed.

“They are not being paid, and they have no prospect of being reimbursed,” said Christopher Condeluci, a lawyer for the Self-Insurance Institute of America.

And even though the Obama administration says insurers will save money by providing contraceptives, Condeluci pointed out that it "may be years before savings are realized."

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