In our view
The Obama administration goofed when it mandated contraceptive coverage for religious-affiliated groups.
The mistake wasn't that contraceptive coverage for women was wrong, but that the language in the Affordable Care Act was limited and created a firestorm that could have been prevented.
In an effort to assuage the concerns of religious groups over contraceptive coverage, the Obama administration last week proposed new rules that would allow employees to obtain coverage through a third party, and not require coverage by the employer.
It is a sensible decision -- one that religious groups sought and that even supporters of the act believed should have been established initially.
The change does not affect churches, synagogues or houses of worship. Those institutions already were exempt from providing coverage. But the new rules, which were issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, broaden the definition of "religious employers." Thus, the new rules would apply to religious nonprofit organizations -- universities, hospitals, etc. -- that object on moral grounds to providing contraceptives but whose employees do not necessarily share those views.
Many of those organizations are self-insured. Under the new rules, employees who want contraceptive coverage can receive stand-alone coverage from a third party at no cost.
Insurers that create plans for self-insured companies would then pay lower fees to sell their plans on federal health exchanges.
The HHS-proposed change is based on language in the Internal Revenue Code. Therefore, it does not exempt for-profit companies that oppose the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, such as Conestoga Specialties Corp., which is owned by Mennonites.
Some continue to argue that the act is illegal. Their cry is to continue to sue the federal government over the mandate.
But the constitutionality of the act already has been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
It's worth noting that the contraceptive mandate is not unique. Twenty-eight states, including the neighboring states of Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey and West Virginia mandate contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance plans.
Ironically, the new ruling actually grants religious organizations in some states greater latitude. The proposed changes would exempt religious organizations in nine states -- Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico and West Virginia -- from the contraceptive mandate where those exemptions currently do not exist.
The Affordable Care Act was crafted to reduce the soaring cost of health care. Contraceptive coverage does that by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions.
The administration had a chance to get this right in the beginning, but dropped the ball. It has now created a path that honors religious liberties while making contraceptive care available to those who desire it.
That may seem like a loophole to some; to us, it sounds like a sensible compromise.