After receiving more than 54,000 comments on whether and how to accommodate objections from religious nonprofit groups to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive insurance requirement, the Obama administration said it will not make any changes to the practices that were challenged—and left unresolved—in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Regulatory authorities on Monday said the thousands of comments “indicate that no feasible approach has been identified at this time that would resolve the concerns of religious objectors, while still ensuring that the affected women receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.”
The U.S. departments of Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services provided the update in an FAQ about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark Obama administration law that now comes under threat from the Donald Trump administration and Republicans in Congress.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius created the mandate when HHS was implementing the Affordable Care Act, by accepting an advisory group’s recommendation to include contraceptive coverage in the basic ACA preventive services benefits package. All plans sold or set up since the ACA was signed into law are supposed to cover the services in the package without imposing co-payments, deductibles or other cost-sharing requirements on the patients.
What happens next to the pending court challenges by the nonprofits may rest with the incoming Trump administration and the U.S. Department of Justice under the leadership of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican picked to lead the agency.
“We have to get to business. Obamacare has been a catastrophic event,” Trump told The New York Times on Tuesday. He urged Republicans to repeal the law and offer a replacement within weeks.
Under the Obama administration’s accommodation, an eligible organization that objects to providing contraceptive coverage for religious reasons may self-certify its objection to its health insurance issuer or third-party administrator using a form provided by the Labor department. An organization is also permitted to self-certify its objection and provide certain information to HHS without using any particular form.
The nonprofits contend that even the writing of a letter to HHS made them complicit in the provision of contraceptives, in violation of their religious beliefs.
Federal regulators solicited the public comments after the Supreme Court in May sent seven challenges back to the lower courts to see if the government and the nonprofits could reach a compromise on how to accommodate the objections.