Contraception Coverage Exemptions: It’s About Power, Not Money

We’ll have to see what the details are like, but reports abound that the Department of Health and Human Resources will release today a new set of regs providing a way that religiously affiliated organizations–particularly those that self-insure for their employees’ health insurance–can avoid the violence to their tender consciences of paying for mandated contraception coverage–without their employees losing the coverage.

Here’s CNN’s take:

In March, after an uproar among religious institutions that didn’t want to pay for contraceptives, the Obama administration offered several policy suggestions that would require the administrator of the insurance policy, not the religious institution or the insurer, to pay for contraception coverage and invited comment on those proposals.
The administration is expected to detail how it will handle two of the more controversial situations, said a source familiar with Friday’s announcement.

“Religiously affiliated organizations will be given the option of exempting themselves from the requirement of providing their employees with contraceptive access or service that they are morally opposed to,” said the source….

If an institution opts out of paying for contraceptive coverage, individual employees will get coverage through a third entity. That separate exchange, said the source, would be paid for by the insurance company.

The second proposal would address self-insurers, organizations that are large enough to pay for their own health care costs, such as a large Catholic diocese.

Those groups, according to the source, will be exempt from having to provide contraceptives, but their employees would be allowed access to contraceptive coverage through other means.

Not real clear, is it?

What is clear is that the administration has no intention (so far, at least) of going the whole hog and letting any private employer who claims a personal religious or moral objection to contraception coverage–say, the proprietors of Hobby Lobby, who have sued to have the mandate voided on First Amendment grounds–will be given access to any sort of exception.

The only thing that will satisfy critics of the mandate, of course, is this sort of self-triggered plenary exemption, and/or a restriction of the mandate to exclude contraceptive devices and drugs that anti-choicers consider “abortifacients,” which generally means Plan B and IUDs, but for some means “the pill” itself.

And any “solution” that doesn’t effectively allow employers–religiously affiliated or otherwise–to keep their employees from obtaining subsidized contraceptive coverage won’t cut much ice, either.

It’s not about the money; it’s about the power. Keep that in mind as this controversy continues.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.