U.S. Clarifies Policy on Birth Control for Religious Groups

New York Times 

ROBERT PEAR 

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration took another step on Friday to enforce a federal mandate for health insurance coverage of contraceptives, announcing how the new requirement would apply to the many Roman Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies that insure themselves. 

In such cases, the administration said, female employees and students will still have access to free coverage of contraceptives. 

The coverage will be provided by the companies that review and pay claims — “third-party administrators” — or by “some other independent entity,” it said. 

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the government would guarantee women access to contraceptives “while accommodating religious liberty interests.” 

The new proposal escalates the election-year fight over the administration’s birth control policy. 

President Obama had previously announced what he described as an “accommodation” for religiously affiliated organizations that buy commercial insurance but object, for religious reasons, to covering contraceptives and sterilization procedures. In these cases, the White House said, the insurer “will be required to provide contraception coverage to women free of charge.” 

On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services went a step further and said it would propose a similar requirement for group health plans sponsored by religious organizations that insure themselves. 

The new proposal did not mollify Republicans in Congress. 

“It’s a Washington accounting gimmick,” Representative Jeff Fortenberry, Republican of Nebraska, said Friday in an interview. “The administration is twisting itself in all directions to expand the ‘accommodation’ for faith-based institutions. Why is it the government’s role to decide who gets an accommodation? The White House is creating an unnecessary political firestorm.” 

Mr. Fortenberry has introduced a bill to let certain employers and insurers opt out of the mandate for contraceptive coverage. More than 220 House members have signed on as co-sponsors.

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