HHS seeks guidance on how to engage, ease burden on faith-based organizations

The Department of Health and Human Services is looking to better understand how it should engage with religious groups on its projects. 

HHS issued a request for information (PDF) last week, seeking comment from religious organizations on how to ease barriers to participation in healthcare and to better understand the role that faith-based groups play in the system. 

"Religious and faith-based organizations ... are important partners with unique expertise that is crucial to advancing HHS’s mission of protecting and enhancing the health ... of Americans," the agency said. 

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HHS wrote that because religion is central to the lives of many Americans, religious and faith-based organizations are "uniquely positioned" to provide insight on people and communities. HHS will look at policies that can ensure that faith-based groups are accommodated and not "substantially burdened" when participating in HHS programs. 

The agency will accept comments through Nov. 24. 

The request is the second action by HHS related to religious freedom in recent weeks. The department also issued a pair of rules that grant exemptions to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate for religious and moral reasons. 

RELATED: Number of Catholic hospitals in the U.S. has grown 22% since 2001 

The rules were issued jointly by HHS, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor. In the rules, the agencies said that the U.S. "has a long history of providing conscience protections in the regulation of healthcare." 

As the healthcare industry's "merger-mania" continues, the number of Catholic hospitals has grown. Alongside that growth, the rates of certain contraceptive procedures have decreased, according to a recent study