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White House announces shift in health-care mandate

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Staff reporter

 

The White House announced this morning a compromise that it says will not force religious employers to pay for contraceptives as part of their insurance coverage. Instead, the responsibility and cost will shift to insurance companies.

According to senior Obama administration officials, the compromise was reached after talks were held this week with various “stakeholders.” The policy accomplishes two important goals, one official said: making affordable contraceptive coverage available and protecting the conscience objections of faith-based institutions.

“Under the new policy that will be announced today, all women will still have access to free preventive care no matter where they work,” he said. “But, those (employers) with a religious objection, the policy says the insurance company will be required to reach out directly and offer her contraceptive coverage free of charge.”

President Obama was expected to make a formal announcement at 12:15 today.

The Catholic Church objected strongly when the initial policy was announced a few weeks ago, and letters from bishops across the country detailing their opposition were read in churches this past weekend. Bishop Malooly and his brother bishops promised not to comply with the requirement, saying they would be forced to drop coverage for affected employees. The bishops had urged Catholics to contact their elected officials to object to the requirement.

The original rule had a narrow exemption for churches and similar organizations, but Catholic hospitals and universities, and presumably Catholic Charities – which largely serves a non-Catholic client base – were not exempt.

The requirement is due to go into effect in August of this year, but a 12-month delay was announced for faith-based organizations. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last month called it “a year to adapt,” but White House officials Friday morning insisted that the extension was included for a reason.

“When the initial announcement was made a few weeks ago, we were very clear that we still had work to do,” one said.

“This is a tough issue, and I think what we’re doing today is a common-sense, responsible way forward,” he added.