Today we witnessed a rare political victory: a new accommodation that should keep all sides happy. The Department of Health and Human Services announced today that they are making an addition to their current exemption to the contraceptive mandate. HHS is further accommodating religious organizations that provide health insurance for employees, while at the same time ensuring that women will receive the full healthcare benefits that they deserve. This new accommodation, in addition to the already existing exemption, is broken down into two parts.
First, Health and Human Services announced that they are changing the legal definition of a religious organization. No longer will there be a four part requirement, there will now just be one requirement to be considered a religious organization by the IRS. This has been a major sticking point for religious charities, especially the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who organized a “Fortnight for Freedom” last summer in opposition to the original HHS Mandate.
Second, this rule also applies to self-insurers. Self-insurers will have to certify as such, but the estimated hundreds of thousands of women will now have access through a separate plan that will allow them to opt in or out of reproductive health coverage. There will be no cost to the employer or the employee, and the self-insurer that qualifies will not even be involved, as HHS is establishing an individual market policy that only covers contraception.
Some of the finer details still need to be worked out, but it is expected that both of these new accommodations in addition to the already existing exemption will be in writing by the August 1st deadline.
All in all this is a win-win for everyone involved. First, it guarantees that more women will have access to the health care that they need. Second, it allows for religious organizations to continue their important work. Third, it shows that the Obama administration is willing to sit down at the table and work out a deal that benefits all sides involved. As a Catholic, who believes in the important work of organizations like Catholic Charities and who believes that increased access to contraception will lead to fewer abortions, I'm pleased that an outcome was reached that should keep all sides happy. And that’s something that we should all be able to agree on.
Jason Miller is an organizer at Catholics United. Follow him on twitter @419in703