Even before Donald Trump set foot in the oval office, he’s had his eye on health reform, but broader efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (also known as the ACA or Obamacare) have fallen short.
Now, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHHS), the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Treasury have released two interim rules that could repeal one of the more controversial portions of the bill: The part that requires full-time employees of applicable large employers (ALEs) to have access to birth control coverage through their employers at no cost.
Specifically, the interim final rules will allow ALEs to obtain an exemption under the new rules by having either “sincerely held religious beliefs” regarding the provision of contraceptives or having objections to providing the drugs “on the basis of moral conviction which is not based in any particular religious belief.”
Under the original ACA, really only churches and religious entities were offered exemptions. However, religious-based universities and hospitals could also avoid the contraception rule by filling out a form and submitting it to their insurance company, who would then allow the broader government to pay for the prescriptions. However, under the new rules, pretty much any company could avoid the contraceptive coverage mandate if they simply fall into either the “religious beliefs” or “moral conviction” category.
Examining the fall out of the proposed change, the experts had varying opinions. For example, HHS suggested that it wouldn’t have any impact for 99.9 percent of women. Specifically, they proffered that only about 120,000 women would see their coverage change based on the approximately 200 entities that have voiced their opposition to the contraceptive mandate in approximately 50 legal challenges to date. However, other policy strategists suggest that the agency may be low-balling the number, pegging the number of those effected by the changes at a much higher figure because there are hundreds of Catholic hospitals, nursing homes and other not-for-profits that could easily jump on the bandwagon and significantly increase the number of those impacted.
Already, a number of groups – including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Women’s Law Center – have voiced their intentions to challenge the legality of the interim rule. We’ll keep you posted as we know more!