Today, the Trump administration confirmed what was leaked yesterday: It plans to issue a new regulation that could result in millions of women across the country losing access to contraception while allowing bosses to make personal health care decisions for their female employees.
This new rule completely undermines the rules put in place during the Obama Administration under the Affordable Care Act, which require most health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services, including contraception, at no cost to the women who receive the services.
Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. But it does not give your boss the right to impose personal beliefs on employees and deny them access to critical health care. Access to safe and affordable birth control is fundamental to American women’s health, lives, and liberty.
We are already in Court this week defending the rights of students at Notre Dame University who could lose coverage if the rule is weakened. We will fight back against this new rule as well. Read more about University of Notre Dame v. Price here.
Here’s an explanation of the new rule and how it would negatively affect women and their access to healthcare.
The Obama Administration Rule Provided Women Access To Birth Control
Under current law, most health-insurance plans must cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception with no co-pay. Churches and other house of worship are fully exempt from this requirement. Nonprofits, certain corporations, and universities that object, for religious reasons, to covering contraception in their employees' and students' health insurance plans can take advantage of an “accommodation.” These employers don’t have to pay for or provide coverage to their employees if they simply give notice of their objection to the Department of Health & Human Services or the insurance company that provides student and faculty coverage. Then, the government will work with third-party insurance companies to provide the coverage at no cost to affected women.
The New Rule Essentially Nullifies The Current Law
The new Trump administration rule nullifies this vital feature of the Affordable Care Act, under the guise of religious freedom. Now, any corporation or entity with a “religious belief” or “moral conviction” opposed to covering contraception can get the exemption, and thereby deny women insurance coverage for contraception. In effect, it is a blanket exemption for any boss to deny women access to basic health care. This blanket exemption also applies to colleges and universities that want to deny students access to contraception coverage.
And here’s the kicker—anyone who wants to take advantage of the new exemption can do so without notifying the government of their intention to do so. The government won’t know who is and who is not providing the full range of women’s health services, so it can’t step in to make the coverage available. And women won’t know that they will be denied coverage unless they ask their potential employer. Talk about an awkward job interview.
The New Rule Creates A New Exemption for Individuals And Insurance Companies
The new rule also creates an individual exemption for people with religious or moral objections who do not want to be provided insurance coverage for contraception. These individuals may obtain a separate plan that does not cover contraception. That means parents can impose their decisions about contraception on their adult daughters, because, remember, the Affordable Care Act allows full-time students to stay on their parents’ health plans up to age 26.
The new rule also lets insurance companies refuse to provide contraception coverage in the plans that they sell.
In sum, anyone or anything can take advantage of an exemption to prevent women from gaining access to essential health care.
The Accommodation Is Optional
If you are keeping track, you might wonder what happened to the accommodation, which ensured that women who work for companies or attend universities that object to covering contraception can still get access to the health care they need. Since any employer can now avail itself of the full exemption, the accommodation has become optional. That all but guarantees that the numerous organizations and schools who have filed unsuccessful lawsuits challenging the accommodation will take advantage of an exemption instead of the accommodation, and that women on their plans will lose contraception coverage.
In short, the new rule would give unrestrained license to corporations, nonprofits, universities, and health insurers to discriminate against women. Discrimination disguised as “religious freedom” is no excuse for employers and universities to insert themselves into the private health care decisions of their employees and students. If the Trump administration finalizes this rule, Americans United will fight it every step of the way.
Stay tuned for another blog post tomorrow detailing the misleading and false information that the Trump administration is using to justify issuing this new rule.
Read part two of this two-part series here.