Obama Administration Looking To Resolve Contraception Controversy
February 8th, 2012
By: Brianna Keilar
After an avalanche of criticism, the White House is working on a way to thread the needle on a new health care policy which will require all employers-including religious institutions-to cover contraception in their health insurance plans.
Policy makers are angling for a loophole that would ensure women receive coverage without forcing Catholic charities, hospitals and institutions to pay for it, two senior administration sources told CNN Wednesday.
The administration is especially interested in the Hawaii model, in which female employees of religious institutions can purchase contraceptive coverage directly from the insurer at the same price offered to employees of all other employers.
Sources said policy makers are also looking at laws in 28 states that have similar coverage requirements.
One source prominent in the progressive Catholic community said the Hawaii plan is a “reasonably good vehicle to try” for a solution that can allay the concerns of Obama’s Catholic allies.
Another favored plan, the source said, would be legislation that would allow women employed by religiously-affiliated employers to get contraceptive insurance from the exchanges created under Obama’s sweeping health care reform, rather than from their employer’s insurer.
But the source added the administration has not yet reached out to leaders in the progressive Catholic community to work on a compromise.
Senior administration sources said while the Hawaii plan has appeal, it would not work nationally because the federal government cannot compel insurers to provide a side-contraception plan.
As for a timeframe, policymakers will announce their decision when the Department of Health and Human Services officially releases the rule, sources said.
The new policy stirred an outcry last week among conservatives and religious groups–particularly Catholics, whose teaching opposes abortion and the use of contraceptives.
While churches are exempt from the rule, hospitals and schools with religious affiliations must comply. The new policy goes into effect on August 1, but religious groups will have a year-long extension to enforce the rule.
While the regulations have caused a firestorm of criticism, a new study released by the Public Religion Research Institute shows the majority of Catholics support the administration’s plan. Nearly 6 out of 10 Catholics think employers should be required to provide this kind of insurance coverage. Among Catholic voters, support for the measure is slightly lower at 52%.
The administration first signaled it was softening its stance on the rule on Tuesday, when White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration was seeking alternative solutions for the issue.
“The president’s interest at a policy level is in making sure that this coverage is extended to all women because it’s important,” Carney said. “(On) the other side is finding the right balance…concerns about religious beliefs and convictions. So we will, in this transition period …seek to find ways to implement that policy that allay some of those concerns.”
On Wednesday House Speaker John Boehner called the policy an “ambiguous attack on religious freedom” and announced the chamber would pursue legislative action to prevent the rule from going into effect.
“If the president does not reverse the department’s attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people, and the constitution, that we’re sworn to uphold and defend, must,” Boehner said on the House floor, adding the Energy and Commerce committee would spearhead the effort.
The Republican presidential candidates have also been vocal about the policy on the campaign trail. Frontrunner Mitt Romney has said he would eliminate the rule on his first day in office.
But on Thursday the White House hit back repeating an argument used by Romney’s GOP opponents and pointing to a Massachusetts law in effect while Romney was governor that required hospitals-including Catholic ones-to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
“This is I think ironic that Mitt Romney is expressing – criticizing the president for pursuing a policy that is virtually identical to the one that was in place when he was governor of Massachusetts,” Carney said.
Romney, however, vetoed the original bill, and his veto was overridden by the state legislature. Responding to Carney’s remarks on Thursday, the candidate said Carney needs to “check his history.”
“I worked very hard to get the legislature to remove all of the mandated coverages, including contraception,” Romney said during a media availability. “So quite clearly he needs to understand that was a provision that got there before I did and it was one that I fought to remove.”