Sep 2, 201410:35 AMForward HR
with Diane Hamilton and Nilesh Patel
What are the new religious exemption rules for contraception coverage?
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The Obama administration has published new regulations to address recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions concerning employers who have religious objections to offering health coverage for contraceptives.
The new rules are meant to take into account eligible employers’ religious beliefs while ensuring that contraceptive services remain available to women. There are two new sets of regulations. One is effective immediately and creates a new method for eligible nonprofit employers to object to contraceptive care coverage. The other asks the public for comments on how to define a closely held corporation that is eligible for a religious accommodation.
Interim final rules effective immediately
The first set of regulations came in response to a temporary injunction issued by the U.S. Supreme Court a few days after the Hobby Lobby decision. The regulations are for nonprofits that consider themselves religious organizations.
Wheaton College, a Christian nonprofit school in Illinois, requested the injunction because it objected to enabling contraceptive coverage through its health plan. The college had three concerns: 1) It did not want to offer “abortion-causing” contraceptive coverage, 2) it did not want to contract with an insurer that offered such contraceptive coverage, and 3) it did not want to participate in a system where that type contraceptive coverage would be triggered by filling out a form or designating its insurer as its proxy.
Wheaton College’s case has been winding its way through the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, but in the meantime, on July 3, the Supreme Court granted the injunction and said it was enough for a religious employer to simply write to the federal government and claim that the organization meets the requirements for an exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement.
The new regulations, which came into effect on Aug. 27, address the Wheaton College injunction. If an employer that is self-insured or has a group health plan objects to filling out the government’s form, that organization can instead notify the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The notice must include: 1) the name of the organization, 2) the basis on which it qualifies for an accommodation, 3) its objection based on sincerely held religious beliefs to coverage of some or all contraceptive methods, 4) the plan name and type, and 5) the name and contact information of the plan’s third-party administrators and health insurance providers. The notice can be sent by email or mail, but not by fax.
Employers with religious objections to contraceptive coverage should evaluate whether they are eligible organizations that can seek the accommodation that has been offered. They can also send in comments about these new regulations to the Department of Labor for 60 days from the effective date.
One thing to note about these new regulations is that they don’t appear to truly address the objections about requiring contraceptive coverage. Wheaton College did not want to trigger or enable certain types of contraceptive coverage. If that coverage is triggered by filling out a form or sending a notice to the government, the employer will still play some part in contraceptive care being offered by an insurer.