White House proposes Hobby Lobby alternative

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The recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case was a victory for companies which consider contraceptive healthcare coverage contrary to a firm's core beliefs, leaving those who feel the issue should be healthcare, not religious values, bereft.

A proposal by the Obama administration Friday seeks to satisfy both by requiring firms to notify Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor of religious objections to contraceptive coverage, after which the government agencies will reach out to third-party insurers, who can then contact employees and offer separate coverage.

This proposal provides a wall between the organization and an ultimate third-party insurer, which the New York Times points out is an extra step, but one that is intended to keep the provision of contraception at arm's-length. The Times notes that the rule previously required organizations to contact insurers, but organizations opposed to contraception said it “made them complicit in providing drugs they objected to.”

Health and Human Services described the proposal in a statement as an effort to “balance our commitment to helping ensure women have continued access to coverage for preventive services important to their health, with the Administration's goal of respecting religious beliefs.” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told the Wall Street Journal this should settle the dispute. “Now that the administration has bent over backwards to accommodate religiously affiliated nonprofits, it's time for these organizations to put this issue behind them.”

A move by California requiring insurers to cover abortion services shows that the conversation about contraception is a subset of women's health discussions. The Associated Press reports that state officials have reversed a policy that allowed insurers to drop elective abortions from coverage, invoking a 1975 state law that prohibits group plans from excluding the procedure. “Abortion is a basic health care service,” California Department of Managed Health's director Michelle Rouillard said in a letter to insurers.  Pro-life group Life Legal Defense told the AP that California's decision requires employers to offer plans that conflict with their beliefs “on the dignity of human life.”

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