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Update on Controversy Surrounding DHHS Decision on Contraception Coverage

On January 26, NETWORK issued a statement taking issue with the recent decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to require that insurance plans provided by most faith-based employers cover the cost of all FDA-approved contraceptive devices with no co-pay. Since then, Sister Carol Keehan, President and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, has also issued a strong statement in Catholic Health World. Because we continue to get feedback on this issue, we are providing additional information in this February 6 update.


Many of our members have written to us and asked questions related to the difference between the Affordable Healthcare Act and the Final Rule announced by DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on January 20, 2012.

A federal law is created by Congress. Unless otherwise specified in the law, a new federal law supersedes state laws and prior federal laws on the same or a related matter. Typically, federal laws must be repealed by Congress and it takes a long time. A federal law may be called a law, statute or Act.

On the other hand, regulations are typically created by a particular Department or governmental agency that has been given authority to define the generalities in a law. The authority is delegated to them by the particular law or by another Congressional allocation of power. It is not uncommon for Congress to leave the details of an Act to the Secretary of one of the Executive Departments. The regulations dictate to the affected people which behaviors and actions they must perform in order to be found in compliance with that law. In short, the Department often determines, by regulation, the nitty-gritty details of a law. The regulations have a greater flexibility than a federal law because a smaller Department can change the regulation, as opposed to an Act of Congress.

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This is a federal statute that provides for comprehensive health insurance reforms that will unfold in the next four years. Most deadlines for implementation of benefits are slated for 2014. The law was designed to meet the needs of the 30 million presently underinsured or uninsured citizens.

Specifically, the law

  • reforms the most negative parts of the private health insurance industry
  • corrects numerous deficits in public health insurance programs
  • extends healthcare for young adults;
  • ensures continued care for children regardless of long term or prior illnesses
  • balances the national medic