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The Controversy over Insurance Coverage for Contraceptives

There are two vehemently opposing sides to the issue of whether health insurance should include coverage for birth control: one side sees the whole topic as an affront against a woman’s right to receive adequate health care, while a different group views the idea of having to pay for contraception as an infringement on religious liberty. Our President has certainly taken a stance in this debate by announcing that he is including this issue as part of the implementation of the health care reform laws.


The Basic Issue: Affordable Health Care for Women

In a nutshell, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly known as “Obamacare,” not only requires everyone to carry health insurance by 2014, but also states that all employers should help pay for it, and the federal government will also help pay for it.


The health care law further requires insurers to cover “preventive health services.” The inability to pay for contraception is a barrier to birth control for many women who would otherwise want to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Obamacare not only means that insurance companies have to pay for services like mammograms and cancer screenings, but specifically defines contraceptives under the umbrella of “preventive health services.” Thus, any type of contraceptive method approved by the FDA must be paid for by health insurance providers with no co-pay or deductibles, including emergency contraceptives and sterilization procedures.


Obamacare ensures that every woman has access to health insurance that gives her the ability to protect herself and her health by utilizing birth control if she so chooses, regardless of race, marital status, financial status or religion.


What has this got to do with religious freedom?

Conservative political leaders and Catholic spokespersons are fired up over the issue and have already begun to fight the ruling. Because of the Catholic proscription against the use of birth control by its membership, they argue that as employers they should not have to provide insurance coverage to their female employees who want to use contraceptives. Catholic leaders state that they should be exempt from the laws requiring employers to provide health insurance that also includes contraceptive coverage, citing that their religious beliefs give them the authority to choose the type of coverage they offer to their employees. If the law requires Catholic employers to provide health insurance, and that insurance includes contraceptive coverage, then the law violates their religious rights to control the health care decisions of their parishioners.


Except- the law actually has nothing to do with Catholic parishioners, since the churches aren’t required to provide health insurance for their members. The law actually affects only the non-profit organizations affiliated with churches, like hospitals and schools, the businesses that hire employees both Catholic and non-Catholic that are required by law to provide health insurance just like any other employer.


Apparently political conservatives and Catholics don’t care if the law is directly solely at business and differentiates between church and business. Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience.”


Is that truly the case here? Or is it in fact an issue of women having the right to choose how to care for their own bodies, regardless of who they work for?

Letting one person’s moral beliefs decide how another person gets medical care?

How about taking the religious connotations of health care choices away and just use the broad measure of any employer being able to select which health services to cover based on his own moral convictions? Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri introduced an amendment to the health care reform laws that would allow either an employer or an insurer to refuse to pay for coverage for any specific services or items that may be “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor…” (So if you work for a company whose owner believes that gall bladder surgery is immoral then your insurance wouldn’t pay for gall bladder surgery.) On March 1, 2012, the Senate killed this bill by a vote of only 51 to 48.

How do most people feel about the debate?

Some people think that a lot of the controversy has arisen as a ploy by big corporate employers to avoid having to help pay for health insurance by saying they don’t believe in it morally or religiously.


Several prominent studies have been made on the issue of insurance coverage for contraceptives and the opinions of the American people. Views are divided primarily along the lines of political affiliation, religion, and somewhat by age as well. Eight out of ten Democrats agree that all employers, including Catholic employers, should be required to provide health care insurance that includes coverage for contraceptive. Only four in ten Republicans agree with the measure, although half of Republicans between the ages of 18 and 49 approve.


Overall, the latest polls reveal that 63% of Americans are in favor of requiring all employers, regardless of religious affiliations, to offer insurance coverage that includes birth control. Polls of Catholic voters are actually nearly equally divided on the topic. Additionally, studies have shown that even 92% of Catholic women have used some type of artificial birth control during their lives.


The Bottom Line: Health Insurance will Cover Contraceptives

Although most employers and health insurance providers were required to comply with this ruling in August of 2012, church affiliated organizations were given an additional year to come into compliance. More than 43 federal lawsuits have been filed by various Roman Catholic organizations challenging Obama’s health care reform law and its ruling regarding contraceptive coverage, but thus far the Supreme Court has upheld most of the elements of the current health care reform laws.

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