Seeking to calm a manufactured furor over a "new" rule requiring health insurers to provide free birth control to women—even insurance plans offered by church affiliated employers—the Obama administration will reportedly offer an "accommodation" this morning that drops this requirement of employers, and instead shifts the mandate to insurance companies to offer such coverage as a free side benefit to enrollees.
Clever, clever, Mr. Obama.
In the long run, there's no additional cost burden to insurance companies (giving away birth control is far cheaper than paying for pregnancies), yet it essentially achieves the same end as the original rule while removing church affiliated employers from the equation. No doubt the Catholic bishops and other conservative religious organizations will not be satisfied by the accommodation, but it totally shifts the parameters of the debate. What had been a conversation about whether religious organizations should be exempt from providing a service that violates their faith, now becomes a conversation about whether these employers should be allowed to deny their female employees access to affordable birth control. (Which, of course, is what this was always really about anyway.)
Recent polls show that despite the Bishops' objections, 98 percent of Catholics have used birth control, and a majority supported the "new" birth control rule. Which by the way, isn't all that "new." Insurers have long been required to offer birth control. All this new rule does is remove the deductible and co-pay.
UPDATE: US Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a champion of reproductive rights, just issued a statement supporting the proposed rule change: “My highest priority here is ensuring contraceptive access and coverage for all women, and I believe this accommodation meets that goal." Full statement after the jump:
Senator Patty Murray’s Statement on Contraception Coverage Announcement
“My highest priority here is ensuring contraceptive access and coverage for all women, and I believe this accommodation meets that goal.
“Every American deserves to have access to high quality health care coverage regardless of where they work. And each of us should have the right to make our own medical and religious decisions without being dictated to or limited by our employers.
“I stand by my support for the original recommendation offered by the independent Institute of Medicine, but I am glad that we can move forward with an acceptable accommodation that addresses the concerns raised and, most importantly, protects women and supports their health care needs.
“I am going to remain vigilant to make sure this rule is implemented in a way that works for women across America. And I will keep working to make sure that politics and extreme ideology never come between women and their health care needs.”