The jest of the rule is this: women will have full access to no-copay contraception, regardless of their employer. Religious employers will not have to pay for contraception coverage, but insurance companies offering plans to the employees of even those employers must provide contraception coverage directly to the employees free of charge nevertheless. This is cost neutral because the cost of coverage with contraception is actually lower than the cost of coverage without, since unintended pregnancy is more costly than contraceptive care. Therefore, any insurance plan that would cover unintended pregnancies has no extra cost (but a potential saving) in covering contraceptive care.
Basically, it shifts the mandate of coverage from the employer to the insurance companies. And it exposes the fact that there is in fact no additional cost to covering contraceptives under insurance, mutilating the idiotic argument that Catholic employers would be required to "pay for" contraceptive coverage.
Most of the media is busy spinning this as the President "backing down" at the "furor" of Catholic bishops and Republican reactionaries who announced their intention to fight women's health care tooth and nail, but this decision - which, may I dare surmise was thought of beforehand and held in close confidence within the administration - achieves two exceedingly brilliant goals for President Obama.
The first, of course, is to protect women's access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act. The president and his administration was always ready to do whatever it took to do that.
But the second is why you do not pick a political fight with Barack Obama. He has pacified any "religious liberties" concern while drawing an even clearer contrast between his agenda and that of the extreme social reactionaries on the Right who now control the Republican party. As many outlets noted, President Obama, with this announcement, has brought on board the Catholic Health Association, who had opposed the previous version of the rule.
“The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions,” [president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association] Sister Carol [Keehan] said in a statement. “The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed.”If the Catholic Health Association and Sister Carol sound familiar to the veterans of the health reform fight, they should. The CHA and Sister Carol were the people that broke with the Catholic bishops in supporting health reform in the first place and thus made broke the back of the wingnut argument that health reform was infringing on religious liberty.
Their support essentially cuts off at the knees any even quasi-legitimate religious liberty argument. It satisfies women's health advocates as well as any reasonable person with any religious liberty concerns.
Except, of course, it doesn't satisfy the radicals who want to take away all reproductive health care from women. Reason never having been their strong suit, they are still complaining bitterly. The side arguments they were advancing under the protective umbrella of the media-generated controversy that is now out of air are now laid bare, but they're hammering at it anyway.
Here's a funny one:
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit law firm that recently filed three lawsuits on behalf of Catholic institutions against the new contraception rules, has come out against the the administration's compromise.Well, first, the religious organizations who self-insure are not all against providing contraceptives. Second, if they plan on acting as an insurance company, they need to obey the laws that apply to all insurance companies - otherwise, they are free to stop self-insuring. But their real beef is that last, bolded part. That they ought not have to pay money to any insurance company that provides contraceptive coverage, free of additional charge, to their employees. In other words, the argument is way beyond having to pay for something they find morally objectionable. They are basically claiming that an employer - any employer - ought to be able to dictate what health care their employees can use and at what cost.
"According to a White House statement, some religious employers will no longer be required to provide insurance coverage for contraception ... However, at least three problems remain. First, hundreds if not thousands of religious organizations self insure, meaning that they will still be forced to pay for these services in violation of their religious beliefs. Second, it is unclear which religious organizations are permitted to claim the new exemption, and whether it will extend to for-profit organizations, individuals, or non-denominational organizations. Third, money is fungible, and many religious organizations may still object to being forced to pay money to an insurance company which will turn around and provide contraception to its employees for free."
The anti-woman Priests for Life organization essentially said the same thing:
The Rev. Frank Pavone, president of the Catholic anti-abortion organization Priests for Life, said “A resolution to this issue cannot only cover ‘religious’ employers. Religious freedom, which includes freedom of conscience, does not belong only to religious entities but to every American. There are many non-religious reasons to object to the administration’s policy.”In other words: employers ought to be able to dictate your medical choices, for whatever reason they damn well see fit.
Basically, this morning's announcement laid out a bait for the Republicans. They could accept this very reasonable rule, or, double down and let the American people know that they really hate women's health care. President Obama bet that the GOP would go for the latter. And guess what? They took the bait. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is introducing an amendment that would let any employer or insurance company refuse to offer any preventive care for any reason.
(6) RESPECTING RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE WITH REGARD TO SPECIFIC ITEMS OR SERVICES —Hmm. Under Roy Blunt's amendment, I wonder if an employer or an insurance company can refuse to cover (or pay to cover) services rendered at any Catholic hospital, especially for young boys. Bluntly speaking, that one ought not fund institutions affiliated with a Church that has not punished or fired a single one of its priests for child sexual abuse is a far more legitimate "moral conviction" than that women ought not retain the right to decide what kind of health care they want.
“(A) FOR HEALTH PLANS. — A health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits package described in subsection (a) (or preventive health services described in section 2713 of the Public Health Services Act), to fail to be a qualified health plan, or to fail to fulfill any other requirement under this title on the basis that it declines to provide coverage of specific items or services because —
“(i) providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan; or
“(ii) such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.
So now the President has stripped off all the cover for the GOP's anti-women agenda, and they are still not smart enough to hide it. Now women know for sure that this fight is about birth control and not about religious liberty. Now women also know who stands in their corner to protect birth control and which party wants to take this very basic health care right away from them.