The Corner

Self-Assured, Rest Assured the Administration Still Overreaches

Those who have moved on do so prematurely. As explained in the Hill:

Religious institutions are beginning to challenge the contraception mandate in court, and the White House faces a key test as it tries to figure out how its policy will work for self-insured employers.

It’s a tricky issue with no clear solution in the framework the administration has laid out so far. And no matter what it comes up with, the White House will be back in the position of trying to reconcile a birth-control mandate with objections from religious groups — a smaller-scale version of the same tight spot it squeezed out of just two weeks ago.

Some religious employers said there’s little hope for an acceptable policy, and are instead pinning their hopes on legal and congressional challenges.

“Right now we certainly hope that this is not a bridge we’re going to have to cross,” said Jane Belford, chancellor of the Washington Archdiocese.

The Washington Archdiocese self-insures, meaning it pays for employees’ healthcare benefits out of its own pocket rather than buying a plan from a traditional insurance company. It covers 3,600 employees and does not pay for birth control, Belford said.

Under the White House’s proposal, most employers must cover contraception in their employees’ healthcare plans without charging a co-pay. Churches and houses of worship are exempt altogether. Religious-affiliated institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and schools, don’t have to pay for the coverage through their own plans — their employees will instead get contraception directly from the insurer, still without a co-pay.

When the employer and the insurer are the same entity, though, no one seems to know what will happen.

“This is really unprecedented, to have the government mandate something that would force us to violate our religious beliefs or else suffer a penalty,” Belford said.

A White House official said the administration will begin meeting “in the coming days” with religious organizations and insurers to try to hammer out policies “that respect religious liberty and ensure access to preventive services for women enrolled in self-insured group health plans sponsored by religious organizations.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also emphasized last week that the administration is looking for a solution that will not require religious institutions to pay for contraception.

Belford said it will be difficult to find a workable compromise because the mandate attempts to define what is and isn’t a religious institution. Its all-out exemption is for entities whose sole purpose is to advance a particular faith. But the Catholic Church also has an outreach mission, she said, which it advances through its work with hospitals and schools.

“As long as that language stands, this mandate infringes on our religious liberty,” Belford said.

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