The Obama administration issued final rules Friday for the birth control mandate under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, an area of the massive health overhaul that generated some of the greatest opposition.
The mandate — effective Aug. 1, 2012 — requires most employers to cover a range of birth-control methods in their health plans without charging a co-pay or a deductible.
Religious groups have strongly opposed the rule, and dozens of lawsuits against the federal government followed. Meanwhile, the administration — as well as women’s rights advocates — continued to praise the contraception mandate, saying it gives women control over their health care.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Friday the final rules “strike the appropriate balance” between respecting those religious considerations and increasing access to important preventive services for women.
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“The health care law guarantees millions of women access to recommended preventive services at no cost,” Sebelius said in a statement.
“Today’s announcement reinforces our commitment to respect the concerns of houses of worship and other nonprofit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage, while helping to ensure that women get the care they need, regardless of where they work.”
The final rules finalize the proposed simpler definition of “religious employer” for purposes of the exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement in response to concerns raised by some religious organizations.
These employers, primarily churches, may exclude contraceptive coverage from their health plans for their employees and their dependents.
Women at nonprofit, religious-based organizations — such as at certain hospitals and universities — will have the ability to receive contraception through separate health policies at no cost.