Will Religious Universities and Hospitals Be Forced to Cover Contraceptives in Employees’ Insurance Plans? January 24, 2012

Will Religious Universities and Hospitals Be Forced to Cover Contraceptives in Employees’ Insurance Plans?

As part of President Obama’s health care reform, almost all employers will be required to provide their employees with health insurance that covers birth control free of charge.

That includes religiously-affiliated organizations, too.



The Obama administration announced it will provide these religious institutions with an extra year to meet the requirement, but will not completely exempt any institutions other than churches from the contraception requirement.

Some of those institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and religious universities, have requested an indefinite exemption to the requirement, arguing that they, like churches, object to the use of contraception and that requiring them to provide it violates their First Amendment rights.

The Center For Inquiry objects to the exemption:

… HHS has provided a one-year compliance exemption for religious hospitals, charities, and universities. This means that hundreds of thousands of women will be left without reproductive health coverage until August 2013 simply because of their employer’s religiously motivated objections. CFI sees no compelling reason why organizations with secular purposes ought to receive any exemption from the law.

No suit has been filed (yet), but if one of the hospitals or universities does file suit, I suspect they will rely at least in part on the recent Supreme Court decision preventing ministers from suing for employment discrimination.  The two cases seem different, as one involves federal employment law and churches, and the other involves federal health care law and hospitals or universities.  But at heart they both ask the same question: At what point has the federal government become too involved with the management of religiously-affiliated institutions?

My hunch is that this provision of the health care mandate will stand.  The religious universities and hospitals won’t get preferential treatment, especially since both often employ many, many individuals who (I imagine) don’t subscribe to the institution’s religious message.  And preventing a hospital or university from denying its employees free access to contraceptives does not present the same threat of government entanglement with religion as would allowing the courts to have a say in which ministers a church hired or fired.

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  • i have a family member who is mormon and has von willenbrand’s disease. She has been on birth control pills/shots/etc. since she was 12 (she’s now almost 20). It’s ridiculous that these jerks think they can pick and choose what they’ll cover in this type of fashion. Providing women with birth control pills will probably lesson their over all costs because the pill is a lot cheaper than paying for a birth and subsequent healthcare expenses of a child.

  • Kristen

    Personally, I’d never work for a Catholic University or Hospital (this coming from an unemployed person) because I’d hate for their religious beliefs to apply to me especially in such a personal way.

    I had a friend in college with terrible acne. She was prescribed a very effective medication, but the ONLY way the pharmacy would give it to her is if she also got birth control because of the serious harm it could do to a developing fetus. She wasn’t even sexually active! In her case, she’d have to pay in full for the birth control just to treat her acne.

    I’m on birth control for severe PMDD (think the worst case of PMS and multiply by 10). Without it, I wouldn’t be able to work several days a month, among other things.

  • Anonymous

    The key word here is “religiously affiliated“. They aren’t churches and thus granting a hospital or university (both institutions that are to a large part government financed – especially hospitals) an exemption from following the law is ridiculous. The line has to be drawn somewhere. What’s next? Not following the law just because you claim to believe in something?

  • To the two conditions you described, add the thousands of women who take birth control to control menorrhagia, common in the years before menopause.

  • I think all women need to demand that taxpayer money stop being spent on impotence treatments and medications for any man who is unmarried or over 45.

  • Marco Conti

    This is actually a good fight to pick. A religious hospital should be an oxymoron in our times. It’s a left over from the charity based way health care was looked at in Victorian times, when these institutions were funded to take care of the poor and they basically served as hospices and warehouses for the terminally ill due to the fact that their brand of “medicine” was barely a step above faith healing and often did more damage than good. The term “hospitals” comes from the Latin word for “Guest” and historically ”
    hospitals were often founded and funded by religious orders or charitable individuals and leaders” (wikipedia)

    Today we are lucky to have science based medicine. Religious hospitals are a vestigial aberration and unless they start applying their religious belief to cure the sick and the poor out of the goodness of their hearth they should follow the rules like everyone else. And I think the government is precisely the right organization to mandate these rules since the government is us citizens, not the sort of shadowy organizations republicans would like you to believe it is. 

    If a hospital claims to be Christian and refuses to provide secular medicine, then I think it would be only fair to expect from them to go back to their roots and treat the poor for free. 
    However, the last time I used a religious hospital, I remember receiving very secular bills from them and they had no qualms employing collection agencies of little repute when I was unable to pay the bill in full.  Those agencies in turn also had no qualms reporting me to the credit agencies. How Christian was that? Especially since they billed me after they already billed, and were paid by, my insurance and basically reported me for their own clerical error (which incidentally never goes the other way)

    As far as I know, religious hospitals use the same secular dirty tricks they all do when padding the bills with $10 band aids and $5 Q-tips, since that’s the game they play with  the insurance companies. In the process, the poor and the uninsured (often one and the same) end up being charged the same ridiculous prices and they get driven even further into debt.
    Would Jesus charge me $5 for a Q-tip? And would he ruin my credit if I couldn’t pay?

    We need to really study this issue and fight them without quarters. We need to let them know how displeased we are because today it’s birth control, tomorrow is the life saving stem cell transplant that will save my daughter life.

    We need to tell them loudly: either do religion or do medicine. If you do both, serve the patient first.

  • PJB863

    The odd thing is that in countries without consitutional separation of church and state – think Belgium, France, Spain, etc.  Catholic hospitals DO provide these services, as mandated by the government.  Of course, all healthcare is strictly regulated or provided by the government.

  • They shouldn’t have a problem with covering contraceptives. If they really hold their beliefs at heart, none of their employees will ever need them.

  • “Impotence treatments?”

  • Eivind Kjorstad

    Just curious; do these policies require them to cover contraceptives used by males, such as condoms or sterilisation, or does this cover only contraceptive pills ?

  • …but will not completely exempt any institutions other than churches from the contraception requirement.

    Do I see another loophole dangling temptingly in front of these slipperier-than-eels knaves? Might they just declare their entire university or hospital a “church”?  This would be similar to their declaring their employees all “ministers” for the same motive of getting out of legal responsibility.

  • anon24

    Health insurance should in general not cover the cost for contraceptives or abortions because a pregnancy is not an illness. That is one of the places where the Democrats have poisoned a good cause (universal health care) and give the independent a reason to vote Republican. What health insurances could pay for though is condoms, dental dams, etc. because these prevent STIs.

  • Katie Bojorquez

    As stated above, there are more than ample uses for birth control besides the fact that it prevents pregnancy. Viagra is covered under the health care system, so why shouldn’t birth control be? Condoms only work so far and don’t help with the other health issues involved with women’s hormones. People like you have a tendency to forget that women aren’t campaigning for the right to have as much sex as they want, they’re campaigning to have control over their bodies and its functions. It’s not just about sex.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, this is really a side effect of the US’s fucked up healthcare system. The government pays more for health on a per capita basis than any other country, but there is no universal healthcare system. So most people are insured via their employers which gives them an unfortunate amount of power over what to cover.

  • Brian Macker

    There goes the price of birth control pills. I wonder what effect that is going to have on those without such insurance and young girls who are getting the pills outside their parents plans.

  • Pregnancy is not an illness? Have you ever been a pregnant woman? I’m pregnant now. Constantly nauseated, major headaches, not to mention the constant fatigue due to the fact that the fetus is sucking away my energy. And birth control IS used to treat illnesses, FYI. And that’s not even mentioning the necessity of abortions in some cases like ectopic pregnancies. You wouldn’t consider the possibility of death an illness?

  • Kris

    There’s a “religious” hospital in the county where I work & did my hospital rotation at for paramedic school. We had to do an orientation where they informed us because even though they’re owned by a hospital conglomerate they maintain their ties to the catholic church. They would NOT provide information to patients about birth control, abortions or the morning after pill (this was before it was available over the counter at all) even in cases of rape. But, they were more than happy to take federal and state money from Medicare and Medicaid.

  • walkamungus

    To echo Katie, Kristen and Nazani14, I took birth control pills for close to 20 years to control atrociously awful menstrual cramps and irregular periods — which the pills do very nicely — and sure as hell not because of contraceptive needs.

  • Anonymous

    A-frigging-men. I resisted the praise I heard for birth control for ten years, and not for religious reasons, but because I wasn’t fond of the thought of messing with my body that way. (When I decided to start using it, I did a lot of research on types and side effects etc.)

    For ten gorram years I was a useless husk of a human being for three days out of every month. I couldn’t sleep through the night (pain killers wore off in an hour), I couldn’t pay attention in class, the only reason I went to school was because you only had to show up to be considered present, you didn’t have to think. Often I couldn’t even keep food down the first day or two.

    When I finished my studies and got a job, I realised I didn’t have a choice. I wouldn’t keep my job for long if I was sick three days out of every month. I had to do more than just show up in Real Life(TM).

    A few years later I just want to go back in time and smack 17-year-old me for not doing it sooner.

    Fun with maths: 10 years x 12 months x 3 days =360 days. I spent nearly ONE YEAR of my life with cramps!

  • Nordog

    Does any insurance pay for condoms?

  • Pregnancy can result in countless medical complications to the woman up to and including death.  Furthermore, hormonal birth control is prescribed for many purposes beyond preventing pregnancy.  I take it to prevent debilitating dysmenorrhea.
    As long as we’re footing the bill so men can get it up (inability to have sex isn’t an illness you know)  why should we not pay for the pill?

  • Obtaining condoms doesn’t require a doctor’s appointment and a prescription like birth control pills, so making them available for free doesn’t need (nor does it really make sense) to involve insurance companies.  They can simply be purchased in bulk and then given away.  Lots of clinics already do this. 

    Sterilization probably depends on insurance policy, but I would be in favor of making sterilization procedures for either gender fully covered.  I’d also be in favor of making sterilization more available.  I’ve been trying to get my tubes tied for ten years now, and no one will do it because I’m not 35+ and don’t have kids.

  • For those who would say that Viagra should be covered because erectile dysfunction is an illness and contraception should not be covered because pregnancy is not an illness…

    … Try looking up the number of men who die each year from ED and compare it to the number of women who die from pregnancy/child birth, then get back to me.

  • Anonymous

    Just so I’m clear on this, the government is enforcing this on these institutions because…why?  Is it because they get federal money?  Could a similar, but private institution not follow this?  (I’m really ignorant here, so thanks in advance).

  • Snuks

    First of all the churches do not tell the government how to run. Second birth control is cheap. Just don’t have sex. Duh…Real hard one to figure out isn’t it. If we didn’t have people who mess around like whores, there would be no need for the abortion pill. If a christian church does not believe in abortions or birth control, the government has no business telling them how much coverage they should have for their employees, and what to cover. Obama’s mother should have aborted him and we wouldnt be in the fix we are in in this country.

  • kaileyverse

    Birth control pills can be used to treat health problems such as PMDD, Acne, Ovarian Cysts, and dysmennorhea.  I used birth control for 3 years to treat underlying medical conditions as a teen, and I used it for those 3 years as a virgin.

  • Anonymous

    Does the Catholic church/you believe in allowing women to have a full-time job? Because I wouldn’t have been able to hold one without birth control to reduce my cramps.

    Oh, and I’m a virgin. And asexual. Full story further up in the comments, as part of a thread you probably should have read before posting. Be careful though, you might learn something.

  • Nursejohio

    I’m pretty sure most churches are trying to tell the government how to run… Evidenced by all the impending legislation regarding abortion, marriage equality, science education in schools. If the churches don’t want government interference in their business, perhaps they should get off the govt payroll? Pay no mind to their tax-exempt status, the simple act of receiving Medicare/caid funding makes them accountable to the same regulations everyone else has to follow. Last time I checked at work, the people signing my paychecks DO get to tell me what to do.

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