Monday was the deadline to tell the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) what we thought about the proposal to allow some employers to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees, based on the employer’s religious beliefs about birth control. Many of you wrote directly to HHS to say this was a bad idea, and Raising Women’s Voices joined more than 25 other national organizations in submitting extensive coalition comments that had the same bottom line.
The HHS proposal to totally exempt some “religious employers” (such as churches and seminaries) should be dropped because it unjustly denies contraceptive coverage to employees who may not subscribe to the religious beliefs of their employer, the coalition comments noted. Moreover, such an exemption conflicts with Affordable Care Act provisions preventing discrimination on the basis of sex, since the exemption allows the denial of coverage for a health care service that only women use.
If HHS decides that it must allow religious employers to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage, the exemption should be replaced with the “accommodation” HHS proposed for a second group of employers who have affiliations to religious entities, we suggested. Under the accommodation plan, the employer does not have to pay for or provide birth control coverage, but the employees still gain this coverage through an insurance company or third-party health plan administrator.
However, our comments also stressed that an employer’s use of an accommodation should not create any barriers or roadblocks for its employees to gaining access to contraceptive coverage without a co-pay. So, we urged that HHS require employers claiming an accommodation to submit verification to HHS of why they qualify (instead of just self-certifying that they do, as HHS had proposed). Moreover, we urged HHS to actively monitor what happens when employers claim an accommodation, such as by making sure affected employees are notified that they will be getting this coverage through a third party and following up to make sure they actually have received the coverage. Want to learn more? Read the coalition comments here.