Nel's New Day

February 12, 2012

Obama Changes Birth Control Rule

Besieged by mostly male Catholics for his recent mandate that their schools, hospitals, and charities must provide insurance that gives free birth control to their employees, President Obama move the requirement last Friday to insurance companies, mandating that they provide free contraception to any women contacting their providers. Companies should be delighted to provide the medication because the alternative—pregnancy—costs them far more money. Catholic leaders are still screaming about it because they don’t want women to have any contraception.

President Obama’s new policy contains the following:

  • Contraception will be available to women at no additional cost beginning August 1, 2012.
  • Insurance companies will reach out directly to employees of religious organizations who object to coverage contraception. The contraception will then be provided to the employee at no additional cost.
  • Religious organizations who object are not involved in providing or paying for contraception in any way. Since contraception helps save on overall health care spending, it is a benefit that comes at no net cost, meaning that religious organizations are not subsidizing it any way by merely providing health care coverage for their employees.
  • Churches and organizations that primarily employ and serve members of their own faith would still be excluded from coverage under the plan.

Enraged by the possibility of women getting birth control—or maybe just pushing for conservative votes—Sen. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) has proposed an amendment to the Affordable Care Act allowing any employer or insurance company to “exclude any health service, no matter how essential, from coverage if they morally object to it.” If this were passed, an insurer or an employer could claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type 2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests, or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an “unhealthy” or “immoral” lifestyle. A health plan could also refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer. Lung cancer might not be covered even if the cause were second-hand smoke. Insurance companies could make a fortune because they wouldn’t have to pay for anything!

Rick Santorum, who stated that the requirement of free birth control for women will lead to people’s beheading in this country, has said that no insurance plan should pay for birth control because it’s so cheap.  In reality, a woman who wants oral contraceptives must pay from $35 to $250 for the provider visit; the medication costs between $15 and $50 a month, depending on medical coverage. Without insurance coverage for contraception, women may pay over $850 the first year of their prescription. Contraceptive patches cost from $15 to $80 dollars per month, possibly costing a woman over $1,200 dollars in the first year. That may be peanuts to Santorum, but for women at the poverty line, it’s unaffordable. For Santorum this may be a small part of his personal budget.

Bishops and conservatives pointing their fingers at President Obama and his so-called “war on religion” ignore the fact that the mandate to require most employers to cover contraception for women went into law over a decade ago and peacefully stayed there during all eight years of George W. Bush’s two terms. In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that companies violated the sex anti-discrimination Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act if they provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn’t provide birth control. For the past 12 years that ruling has applied to all employers with 15 or more employees.

To gain birth control access for women, reproductive rights groups and employees sued employers who were not in compliance. In 2001’s Erickson v. Bartell Drug Co., a federal court ruled with EEOC. Other court decisions echoed Erickson while others disagreed, but, with no U.S. Supreme Court ruling, 90 percent of employer-based plans offered birth control. Judy Waxman, the vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center said, “It has been in active use all this time. [President Obama’s] policy is only new in the sense that it covers employers with less than 15 employees and with no copay for the individual. The basic rule has been in place since 2000.”

Not even religious employers were exempt from the impact of the EEOC decision. Title VII allows religious institutions to discriminate on religious grounds, but it doesn’t allow them to discriminate on the basis of sex. DePaul University, the largest Roman Catholic university inAmerica, added birth control coverage to its plans after receiving an EEOC complaint several years ago.

New York began requiring prescription contraception coverage in 2002 after Catholics groups sued and lost in the state’s highest court. The Supreme Court refused to take on the case. To avoid covering contraception, Catholic institutions in New York would have to drop all prescription drug coverage—including Viagra.

Letters to the editor in my part of the country have said it better than I can. Barbara Scarff Minckler writes, “I find it ironic that the old men who run the Catholic Church, neither husbands nor fathers, who didn’t have the decency to control the pedophiles in their own ranks, think they should have something to say about the most private of women’s concerns, i.e., their reproductive health.” (Meanwhile the Catholic Church is also trying to prevent groups such as Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests from stopping pedophilia.)

Lisa Cannon adds, “Are we really still talking about making birth control available to everyone? Which decade is this? If the people who run Catholic hospitals and universities feel so strongly about denying access to birth control to their employees, then they should refuse to accept federal funds.” She goes on to explain that most Catholics are not opposed to birth control and finishes, “So unless we decide we also want to allow every religion to ignore the laws of our country because they don’t agree with them, this is a non-issue. If prominent Republicans defend this, then I expect to see them defend the rights of Native American to take peyote at religious ceremonies as well.”

Cannon’s last comments refers to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s statement in writing for the majority decision in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith: “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that  the State is free to regulate.” People whose religious beliefs oppose war are also still forced to pay for war.

Janie Malloy finishes her letter by stating, “Respecting employers’ religious beliefs does not require allowing them to make health care and reproduction decisions for us.” Amen.

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