Way back in August, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the Affordable Care Act which required that all private health care plans provide women with preventative services including well-woman visits, breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling, domestic violence screening and counseling, and sexually transmitted infection counseling for free.
High fives were enjoyed by all and the dreaded annual appointment we all have with a speculum seemed a little less onerous. While some women were busy finding lactation consultants in their area and trying to decide how they would stimulate the economy with their savings in co-pays, (What? That’s what I was doing.) some religious organizations were just getting, well, angry.
Why? Because in addition to providing us all with breast pumps and pap smears, the Affordable Care Act also required health insurance plans to provide women with free birth control, a ruling that religious employers say goes against their teachings and violates their rights. Hospitals, non-profits, and schools run by religious organizations have pushed back against the bill and after consideration, the White House announced in January that religious employers will not be given an exemption. They will, however, be given one additional year, until August 2013, to comply with the new law.
Some Catholic colleges are resisting the act, which also gives students the right to free contraceptives and, as the New York Times reports, are refusing to prescribe the pills to their students as it betrays the teachings of the church. Some businesses are threatening to drop insurance coverage for employees all together if the bill stands. In my opinion, this is largely a scare tactic since after 2014 employers with more than 50 employees that don’t offer health insurance will have to pay a $2,000 penalty per employee for any employee that uses a federal subsidy to acquire insurance on their own. That’s a hefty bill to foot just to prove a point.
The decision to require employers to provide free access to contraceptives is one based on a recommendation by the Institute of Medicine, an independent group of doctors and researchers that concluded that birth control is a necessary part of a woman’s health and well-being. You can read more about that decision here.
As we get closer to the compliance deadline, this is sure to spark a legal battle as organizations like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops fight for what they believe is an infringement on their religious rights and the administration, backed by scientific facts, fights to protect women’s rights.
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