Under current law, most employer-sponsored health insurance plans have to include birth control coverage, but that will soon change, with the Trump administration announcing today that it is rescinding this requirement, allowing employers to decide whether they want to include this coverage in the policies they offer.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued a pair of new rules today, granting religious and “moral” exemptions to businesses who don’t wish to have their insurance policies cover birth control.
“The United States has a long history of providing conscience protections in the regulation of health care for entities and individuals with objections based on religious beliefs or moral convictions,” reads the text of the two rules, which the administration claims are needed to “protect [moral/religious] convictions for certain entities and individuals.”
There is already an exemption for employer-sponsored insurance provided by religious organizations that oppose contraception, but this expansion would allow any business — regardless of the owner’s religion — to drop this coverage by claiming they are morally opposed to birth control.
Employees at businesses that take advantage of this new loophole would have to take on the out-of-pocket expense for birth control. HHS officials estimate that around 120,000 women would be immediately affected by this change, but it’s unclear how the government calculated that figure.
Both of the new regulations are being issued as “interim final rules,” meaning the administration is sidestepping the normally contentious and drawn-out method for new federal regulations. Rather than go through the process of proposing the rule, issuing a draft, taking public comment and then at least acknowledging that you heard those concerns in the final version, an interim final rule has only a 30-day public comment period before it’s officially part of the federal code.
That public comment period will begin after the rules are published in the Federal Register on Oct. 13, meaning the exemptions could become official before Thanksgiving.
However, the rules will likely face multiple legal challenges. The ACLU indicated in May that it would be prepared to sue the administration if HHS gutted the birth control requirement. The National Women’s Law Center says it is reading the just-released regulations, but it too is expected to challenge the rule change in court.
“By taking away women’s access to no-cost birth control coverage, the rules give employers a license to discriminate against women,” says Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC President and CEO. “This will leave countless women without the critical birth control coverage they need to protect their health and economic security. We will take immediate legal steps to block these unfair and discriminatory rules.”