Religious plans not exempt from free contraception coverage

Insurers that offer health plans for religious-based employers still must provide free coverage for birth control, the Obama administration said, rejecting requests from religious groups and Republicans to exempt employees of religious hospitals, colleges and charities.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) said on Friday that it won't weaken its requirement that most health insurance plans offer free prescription contraceptives, including all methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as sterilization procedures without co-payments or deductibles, reported the NPR Shots blog.

HHS did grant insurers that provide plans for such employers as religious-based hospitals, universities and charities an extra year--until Aug. 1, 2013--to comply with the contraceptive requirement. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the additional year is available for "nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan," according to The New York Times.

The grace period notwithstanding, the Obama administration stood behind the position it proposed last year in an interim final rule, despite the outpouring of appeals, including a personal meeting between Roman Catholic Church leaders and the President, to exempt all religiously-affiliated employers, The Hill's Healthwatch reported.

Despite this final ruling, Catholic bishops have pledged to work on overturning the HHS decision, saying it will take the issue to court if necessary.

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article
- see the NPR Shots article
- check out The Hill's Healthwatch article