In the immortal words of “Say Anything’s” Lloyd Dobler, “I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.” We were worried women were going to get pens this Valentine’s Day instead of a key improvement to health care they are set to receive under the Affordable Care Act. Under the ACA, women can receive many preventive services – including contraception – without a co-pay. However, some religious leaders and policymakers objected that some religious-affiliated employers (e.g. universities and hospitals) would be required to cover contraception as part of their insurance plans.
The recommended list of preventive services was based on a report by the Institute of Medicine and includes services such as annual physicals, screening for gestational diabetes, breast feeding support and FDA-approved contraceptive methods and counseling.
In the face of that strong opposition, we were heartened when the Secretary of Health and Human Services announced in January that all employers, except churches and religious organizations that primarily serve members of their own faith, would be required to provide insurance coverage that included contraceptive services. And despite all the hot air from opponents of these critical improvements to women’s health, recent polling shows the majority of Catholics support inclusion of contraceptive services.
Friday morning the Administration announced it was making changes to the rule, and we worried women would be getting pens this Valentine’s Day.
Fortunately, our fears were assuaged when President Obama announced a change to the rule that still supports women and their health care needs. Under the President’s new proposal, insurers will directly offer contraceptive coverage to those who work at religious affiliated institutions, which means institutions won’t have to include or pay for this benefit as part of the coverage they provide to their employees. As a result, women will continue to be able to get access to these important services at no cost, no matter where they work. The amended rule has the support of women’s health organizations and the Catholic Health Association (a critic of the earlier rule), as well as support from Catholic voters.
If the Administration had allowed some of these large, religious-affiliated employers to opt-out of providing birth control, hundreds of thousands of women (of varying faiths) would not have access to these important preventive services and would face additional financial costs. The President’s proposal is a fair compromise: women who work at these institutions will get the services they need from their insurance companies directly, and employers will be exempt for providing services they oppose. As Jack Lew, President’s Obama Chief of Staff, explained on the Sunday news shows, the Administration can’t make everyone happy, but they were able to create a compromise that has the support from various groups on both sides of the issue.
We are grateful that this Valentine’s Day the Administration, in the face of intense political pressure, put women’s health care needs first.
The ACA is a huge victory for women. This Valentine’s Day, let’s make sure women and the Administration receive hearts and not pens. Let the Administration know you support their decision that insurance should cover a woman’s basic preventive health care needs, including contraception, no matter where she works.
— Reena Singh, Associate Director of State Health Advocacy