April 10, 2013 — A coalition of 12 secular organizations is urging HHS to limit the scope of exemptions to the federal contraceptive coverage rules, which the groups say are too lenient on religious employers, The Hill's "RegWatch" reports (Hattern, "RegWatch," The Hill, 4/9).
The contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require that most health plans cover contraceptive services. Religious entities such as churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirements.
In February, the Obama administration proposed an accommodation for other religiously affiliated employers that would ensure that their health plans do not have to pay for contraceptive coverage. The accommodation would not apply to for-profit businesses (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/9).
Groups Critique Exemptions, Offer Alternatives
In a letter to HHS, the coalition criticized HHS' proposal to use a definition of "religious employers" that adheres to a section of Internal Revenue Service code defining religious employers as "churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches" and "the exclusively religious activities of any religious order."
The letter recommended a definition under which religious groups are exempt from Social Security taxes. Under this definition, exemptions to the contraceptive coverage rules would be limited to situations in which both the employer and worker are part of a religious group and have filed separate applications for relief from the rules. "Allowing employers to make a unilateral decision to be exempted sets a terrible precedent for religious interference in individual choice," the letter argued.
The groups also criticized the proposed accommodation for religiously affiliated employers, which would apply to not-for-profits that have religious objections to birth control, hold themselves out to be religious organizations and have self-certified as such.
The proposed accommodation is "vague and overly broad," the groups argued, adding that "any nonprofit, regardless of its activities, run by a person of faith who believes he or she is doing 'God's work' could claim this accommodation."
Signatories to the letter include American Atheists, the American Ethical Union, the American Humanist Association, the Council for Secular Humanism, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, the Secular Coalition for America and the Secular Student Alliance ("RegWatch," The Hill, 4/9).