Obama’s correct call on contraception coverage

In August, the Obama administration announced some very good news: thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and following the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, contraception would be covered by insurance plans as preventive care.

The health care reform law already requires insurers to cover “preventive health services” for free, but the announcement was part of a process that defines what those services will include. According to Health and Human Services, insurers would be required to cover not only contraception, but also HPV testing, breastfeeding support and supplies, and domestic violence screening and counseling.

The news generated an intense lobbying campaign from Roman Catholic bishops and other religious leaders, pushing the administration to curtail the scope of the coverage. As of November, there was a fair amount of talk that Obama’s team might cave on this.

I’m pleased to report that didn’t happen. Religious-affiliated hospitals got a delay, but the administration denied their push for an exemption.

Most healthcare plans will be required to cover birth control without charging co-pays or deductibles starting Aug. 1, the Obama administration announced Friday.

The final regulation retains the approach federal health officials proposed last summer, despite the deluge of complaints from religious groups and congressional Republicans that has poured in since then. Churches, synagogues and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, but religious-affiliated hospitals and universities only get a one-year delay and must comply by Aug. 1, 2013.

“This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”

The Obama administration deserves a lot of credit for doing the right thing, especially given the lobbying push. Jessica Arons, the director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress, called this move “a huge victory for women’s health.” She wasn’t the only one praising the decision.

“Birth control is not just basic health care for women, it is an economic concern,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “This common sense decision means that millions of women, who would otherwise pay $15 to $50 a month, will have access to affordable birth control, helping them save hundreds of dollars each year.”

And Nancy Keegan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, praised the administration for standing “firm against intensive lobbying efforts from anti-birth-control organizations trying to expand the refusal option even further to allow organizations and corporations to deny their employees contraceptive coverage.”

“As a result, millions will get access to contraception — and they will not have to ask their bosses for permission,” she said.

This breakthrough will very likely be reversed if President Obama loses in November, but for now, it’s a terrific progressive victory.