Self-Insuring Faith Groups Exempt from Contraceptive Order

Article excerpt

Byline: Paige Winfield Cunningham, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that self-insuring church-affiliated employers will be exempted from a contraception coverage mandate, clearing up a question raised by Catholic groups and other opponents who continued protesting the rule this week.

Yes, I think that we will apply it to both, Mrs. Sebelius told reporters, saying a new rule the administration offered last week to quell criticism will apply both to church-affiliated employers who buy plans for their workers and to those who self-insure.

Whether it's an insured plan or self-insured plan, that the employer who has a religious objection doesn't have to directly offer or pay for contraception, she said as reporters gathered around her Wednesday after a hearing on President Obama's proposed budget before the Senate Finance Committee.

Self-insuring - in which an employer hires an insurance company to administer a plan but pays its employees' claims itself - is an approach to health coverage that has grown more popular over the past few decades. Three in five covered American workers are in a plan funded by their employer, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

However, Mrs. Sebelius did not assuage all the concerns raised by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, other religious leaders and religious-freedom activists.

Since the White House released its new proposal Friday, critics also have charged that religious insurance companies wouldn't be exempted under the rule - a claim Mrs. Sebelius didn't contradict when asked about it at Wednesday's hearing.

Religious insurance companies don't really design the plans they sell based on their own religious tenets, she said.

Mrs. Sebelius also acknowledged, under questioning by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, that she didn't consult with the Catholic bishops before releasing the newest version of the rule, which expanded the religious-freedom exemption to include not just churches but also church-affiliated employers such as Catholic hospitals, charities and schools. …