Our Contraception Desert
In this period between Passover and Shavuot, we remember what it was like for the Jews to wander in the desert after being freed from Egypt. Forty days must have felt like quite a long time for these Israelites – though it was admittedly nothing compared to the 40 years that their descendants would have to spend traipsing through the Sinai before being let into the land of Israel. Now, this may be projecting, but most of us probably don’t do much physical desert-wandering these days. However, many of our daily (or weekly, or yearly) tasks can sometimes feel as futile and drawn-out as the trek through Egypt.
This is probably how many feel about the HHS contraception regulations – which we’ve been talking about and commenting on for some time now. However, we have reached the final stretch! Yesterday, Rabbi David Saperstein released comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) – one of the Administration’s final steps before releasing its final ruling regarding how contraception coverage and access will be covered under the new guidelines established by the Affordable Care Act. Just as wandering through the desert resulted in the receipt of the Torah, so too are our continued efforts on this issue crucially important.
An excerpt of Rabbi Saperstein’s comments below highlights many of our key priorities and concerns regarding the NPRM – full comments can be found here.
“We appreciate that the problematic definition of religious employers included in the initial proposed rule has been clarified and now reflects that found elsewhere in federal code. In particular, we are encouraged that the Administration concurred with the position we have espoused from the beginning – that whatever exemption religious organizations are entitled to should not depend on the faith of the people to whom they provide social services nor that of those who they hire to provide such services. …
We recognize that with self-insured parties, the tension between competing claims of religious liberty and women’s rights is more complicated, but in the end female employees in these organizations are still entitled to receive seamless access to contraception. Under one of the options outlined in the current proposal, “a third party administrator…would have an economic incentive to voluntarily arrange for the separate individual health insurance policies for contraceptive coverage for plan participants and beneficiaries.” By merely incentivizing – not requiring – insurers to contract with third party administrators to provide contraception plans to employees of accommodated organizations, the proposed rule could potentially leave women without coverage, should the third party administrator not be able to secure a willing insurer. We support the incorporation in the final rule of the other two proposed options that instead legally require third party providers to contract with an insurance company to provide contraception access, thereby guaranteeing that all women can acquire the medicines they need. …
Additionally, the NPRM establishes a system by which an accommodated organization that chooses to not provide contraception to its employees can simply rely upon the third party insurer or administrator to relay this information to the employees. This too is a complex issue in which many competing claims are at stake. Yet we hope that the final rule will require objecting entities, at a minimum, to direct their employees to where they can receive information about their contraception coverage. Seamless access for employees of accommodated organizations needs to be addressed, secured and protected – all women must have knowledge, awareness and coverage.”