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Catholic World News

Final rules issued for HHS mandate

June 28, 2013

The Obama administration has released its final rules for the implementation of the health-care reform program by religious institutions, leaving essentially unchanged the requirement that all health-care programs for employees must supply coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs.

The final rules, released on June 28 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), retain a strict definition of the institutions that are exempt from the HHS mandate for religious reasons. Only churches themselves are exempt; church-run institutions that serve others, such as hospitals and schools, are not. The rules make no provision for secular corporations run by individuals who object to the HHS mandate for reasons of conscience.

The HHS rules offer a small concession to religious institutions, extending until January 1, 2014, the period that they will be given to comply with the new regulations. The policy announced on January 28 also streamlines the system for providing employees of religious institutions with contraceptives. The institutions are not required to fund the contraceptive coverage themselves, but insurance providers are required to offer contraceptives at no additional cost to the employers—thus in effect including them in the institution’s health-care policies. HHS officials claim that the insurers will not face extra costs for covering contraceptives, since the birth-control devices will cut down on costs associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Insurers and pharmacists dispute that claim.

The new HHS rules were released to the public on a Friday afternoon, providing little time for scrutiny and reaction before the weekend. The US bishops’ conference had no immediate public response, saying that officials were studying the new rules.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed by Church-related institutions and private employers to challenge the HHS mandate, mostly on grounds of religious freedom. These lawsuits have produced mixed results, and the issue will almost certainly come before the Supreme Court for a final resolution.

 


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