HHS Adopts IOM Recommendations on Reproductive Health Care; Exempts “Religious Employers” From Birth Control Coverage


VIDEO: Planned Parenthood Goes Bollywood!

HHS is allowing a 60-day comment period to accept public comments about the decision to provide religious exemptions.  Planned Parenthood is asking supporters of the new HHS decision to write HHS through their site here: http://ppaction.org/rule. Let the HHS know that the majority of Americans support birth control with no co-pays and believe that all women, regardless of their employer or insurer, should have access to affordable birth control if they want or need it.

This morning the Department of Health and Human Services announced guidelines for insurance coverage on women’s preventive health services that include all the recommendations recently made by the Institute of Medicine.  The guidelines require new health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services such as well-woman visits, breastfeeding support, domestic violence screening, and contraception without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible.

“The Affordable Care Act helps stop health problems before they start,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need.”

The guidelines will ensure women have access to a full range of recommended preventive services without cost sharing, including:

  • well-woman visits;
  • screening for gestational diabetes; 
  • human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing for women 30 years and older;
  • sexually-transmitted infection counseling;
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening and counseling;
  • FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling;
  • breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling; and
  • domestic violence screening and counseling. 

New health plans will need to include these services without cost sharing for insurance policies with plan years beginning on or after August 1, 2012.  According to HHS, “The rules governing coverage of preventive services which allow plans to use reasonable medical management to help define the nature of the covered service apply to women’s preventive services.  Plans will retain the flexibility to control costs and promote efficient delivery of care by, for example, continuing to charge cost-sharing for branded drugs if a generic version is available and is just as effective and safe for the patient to use.”

An amendment to the prevention regulation allows religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services. HHS defines the policy as follows:

Group health plans sponsored by certain religious employers, and group health insurance coverage in connection with such plans, are exempt from the requirement to cover contraceptive services.  A religious employer is one that:  (1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization under Internal Revenue Code section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii).  45 C.F.R. §147.130(a)(1)(iv)(B). See the Federal Register Notice: Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Issuers Relating to Coverage of Preventive Services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PDF – 108 KB)

This regulation is modeled on the most common accommodation for churches available in the majority of the 28 states that already require insurance companies to cover contraception.  “HHS welcomes comment on this policy,” noted the statement.

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