Not long after the Obama administration issued a clarification on the birth control mandate, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that they don’t like it. This is unsurprising, because the USCCB has been against the birth control mandate since it was first made into law. Their opinion does not cause a change to the law, however.
Here we go again! One could describe the battle for birth control coverage as resembling a ping pong match. The Obama administration includes contraception as preventative care and requires insurance plans to cover the cost of it. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rejects this idea, saying that it violates their religious beliefs.
The Obama Administration hits the ball back over the net by exempting churches and other places of worship from the requirement. The USCCB returns the ball complaining that this is insufficient and wanting clarification on how religious business that are not exempt will be expected to proceed.
The back and forth might be amusing under other circumstances. From an insurance standpoint, the outcome of this little game is going to determine if women across the United States will have access to birth control coverage in employer sponsored health plans, or if they will be denied it based upon the religious beliefs of the owner of the company, (or their boss).
What is it that the USCCB do not like about the clarification? This is probably best summed up by the words of the president of the USCCB, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. He feels that the rules offer only “second-class status” to church-affiliated universities, hospitals, and charities by failing to grant them the full exemption that houses of worship receive.
In other words, he sees no difference between a church and a hospital that is affiliated with a particular religion. The clarification provides access to contraceptive coverage for employees at, or students at, religiously affiliated non-profit groups. In short, it provides the coverage through an indirect route instead of directly from the religious employer.
It is possible that part of the reason why the USCCB is rejecting the clarification has to do with the many lawsuits that have been filed by religious employers who want to be exempt from the birth control mandate. The clarification specifically points out that for-profit companies are not exempt from covering contraception in health insurance plans. This could undermine the claims made by religious employers of companies that are for-profit.
From an insurance standpoint, the opinion of the USCCB is simply an opinion. The group is not a legislative body, and cannot create law. It is also lacks the authority that state Insurance Commissioners have in regards to how insurance works in their state. The Obama Administration will hear opinions about the clarification for a while. Nothing changes at this time.
Image by Philippe Put on Flickr