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NETWORK Calls for Dialog: DHHS Rule Provides for Unacceptable and Unintended Consequences

For release January 26, 2012

CONTACT: Stephanie Niedringhaus, 202-347-9797 x224,

Washington: NETWORK today released the following statement on the new rule concerning insurance coverage of contraceptive services:

On January 20, 2012, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), announced the final affirmation of an administrative rule that will require most health insurance plans to cover preventive services for women. While the inclusion of “recommended contraceptive services” will be free of monetary cost to the consumer, it bears a heavy price for the Catholic-owned or operated institutions that must adhere to the rule. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides specific conscience protection for providers of medical care; however, it is silent in this new area of mandated insurance coverage.

Despite the strenuous demands of NETWORK, Catholic faith leaders and religious-sponsored institutions to have their conscience objection given proper recognition, the rule was made final without suitable change. The only change made to the interim rule was that it permitted a one-year delay in implementation for faith-based employers. NETWORK is disappointed in the final rule. The administrative rule demonstrates a lack of understanding of the potential unintended consequences. NETWORK urges the Administration to immediately begin an open dialog to explore necessary conscience protections in this new area of mandated insurance coverage.

The Right to Conscience and exercise of religion are well-established freedoms in the United States. Direct healthcare providers have never been and are not required to participate in activities that reasonably violate their religious beliefs. Obviously, this must apply to the religious-based institution that exists for the sole purpose of providing a particular service pursuant to its religion. However, given the speed with which the provision of healthcare advances, our legal system has experienced difficulty in drafting legislation that can keep up with the times. Application of legal rights such as the Right to Conscience have not specifically addressed the provision of insurance by a religious-based institution because it has never been mandated before now. Thus, DHHS was ill prepared to provide appropriate clarity.  

NETWORK, like Catholic Health Association, feels that this rule represents a missed opportunity to address and demonstrate respect for the religious conscience rights in the United States. We believe that more acceptable alternatives to this administrative interpretation have been suggested. The State of Hawaii has, in fact, found ways to both mandate insurance coverage and provide conscience protections for faith based organizations. NETWORK calls for open discussions with the present Administration in order to create a rule more in keeping with the religious freedoms afforded in the First Amendment and the United States Right of Conscience laws.

NETWORK continues to affirm the ACA as a positive piece of legislation that has already provided healthcare coverage for millions of previously uninsured persons. It is this particular administrative rule for implementation of one section of the Act that causes our discouragement.

The rule can be changed without an Act of Congress because the ACA gave authority to DHHS to determine which services will be included in mandated insurance provisions.