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How the White House Is Changing Obamacare to Comply With Hobby Lobby

HHS released new regulations on the law’s contraception mandate

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(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Obama administration released new plans Friday to soften Obamacare's contraception mandate in response to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling.

Certain for-profit companies, like Hobby Lobby, will be able to avoid directly covering birth control, using the same "accommodation" available to employers like Catholic hospitals and universities.

 

The Health and Human Services Department also proposed new guidelines for how employers should register their religious objections to covering birth control—an attempt to accommodate religious groups that object to filling out a particular form.

The Affordable Care Act requires most employers to include all FDA-approved contraceptives in their workers' health care plans, without charging a co-pay or deductible. But some business owners said the requirement would force them to violate their religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that "closely held" corporations do not have to comply with the birth-control mandate if their owners have a religious objection. The court said HHS should find a less restrictive means of ensuring that women have access to contraception coverage, and HHS outlined that option on Friday.

 

Under HHS's latest proposal, closely held for-profit companies would be able use the same workaround as religious-affiliated employers, such as Catholic hospitals.

If those employers object to covering certain forms of contraception in their health care plans, they can push the coverage burden to their insurance companies. The employers don't have to pay for the coverage or tell employees how to use it, and insurers are prohibited from padding the company's premiums to pay for the benefit.

The White House has said the workaround won't be a problem for insurance companies because contraception is relatively inexpensive—and far less expensive than covering a pregnancy and a child.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has helped coordinate the legal challenges to the mandate, said it was still reviewing the proposal, calling it "the latest step in the administration's long retreat" from the original mandate.

 

Also on Friday, HHS proposed changes in the process religious employers use to claim an exemption. Employers can notify the government that they object to covering birth control, rather than sending a notice to their insurance company.

Some religious groups, including Wheaton College and a Catholic organization called Little Sisters of the Poor, said their religious beliefs were threatened when they filed the form with their insurance companies. They argued that because they knew that filing the form would activate coverage of a drug they find immoral, they shouldn't have to begin that process.

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