Published in POLITICO
The Obama administration is debating the inclusion of a conscience clause that would allow some insurers not to cover contraception on religious grounds, POLITICO has learned. HHS is expected to announce its adoption of Institute of Medicine recommendations on what preventive services for women must be covered under the Affordable Care Act.
Internal disagreements over the issue have caused an announcement of the administration’s position to be delayed more than once this week, according to sources knowledgeable about the planning of the event who said it was first slated for Tuesday.
An HHS official responded to these concerns, “HHS has said consistently that it would review the IOM’s recommendations carefully and act by [Aug.] 1.”
The IOM recommendations were unveiled on July 19.
On Friday afternoon, HHS sent out a press release with notice of an “Affordable Care Act Announcement” to be held Monday at 2 p.m. that is now believed to be the latest attempt to unveil the department’s response to the IOM’s recommendations.
The IOM was charged with recommending what preventive services must be covered without co-pays for patients by health plans under the Affordable Care Act,. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will codify with formal regulations. The IOM recommended that birth control, breastfeeding support and domestic violence counseling all be covered by insurance without co-pays.
Abortion opponents and religious groups attacked the IOM recommendations for not providing any exemption for individuals or health plans that oppose coverage of contraception on religious grounds, while reproductive rights groups heralded the policy proposals for expanding birth control options for low-income women.
Anna Franzonello, staff counsel with Americans United for Life, said that although her group would be “encouraged” if the administration was considering an conscience exemption, it would not go far enough.
“The Obama administration has repeatedly demonstrated that its idea of conscience is narrow and protections are shallow or meaningless,” she said.
Franzonello said “abortion-inducing drugs” such as emergency contraception “should not be normative for preventive care” regardless of whether plans can decline coverage under a conscience clause.
Kate Nocera contributed to this report.