Dear Ms. Velasquez,
Thank you for contacting me regarding the issue of health insurance plan coverage of contraceptive services.
As you know, in August 2011 the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a set of interim rules that would require most health insurance plans to cover preventative health services for women, including access to contraceptive services without a co-pay, co-insurance or a deductible. Included in this new rule was an exception for non-profit religious employers such as houses of worship and other institutions whose primary purpose is to spread their faith. For most employers covered under the rule, the new coverage requirements would go into effect on August 1, 2012. However, on January 20, 2012, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the deadline for implementation for church-affiliated institutions such as schools, hospitals, and other organizations would be delayed until August 1, 2013.
The decision by HHS to exempt church health plans, but not church-affiliated institutions such as colleges and hospitals, has generated strong debate on both sides of the issue. The Department maintains that its rule follows the recommendation of the Institute of Medicine – a non-governmental body of physicians and health experts – to include birth control coverage, which the vast majority of American families have utilized for decades. However, this rule has run into resistance from leaders of many faiths who object to a regulation to require the purchase of birth control coverage that runs counter to religious belief. While HHS believes that such objections were addressed through the exemption for houses of worship and a one year delay in implementation for church-affiliated institutions, critics of the rule believe that these steps do not go far enough in addressing their concerns.
It is important to note that this rule would not go into effect for church-affiliated institutions until August 2013, providing significant time for this issue to continue to be reviewed and for alternatives to be proposed to address the concerns of religious institutions. In light of the concerns raised by this rule, I am pleased that the White House has indicated that it would consider alternative methods to provide access to contraceptive services without forcing religious institutions to pay for such coverage. I strongly support this approach, and am hopeful that such a resolution, using existing models from states around the country, can be found. Another possible alternative would be to "grandfather" existing health plans that do not currently include contraceptive coverage and allow such plans to continue to be offered.
Please be assured that I understand and appreciate your views and concerns about this issue, and will keep them in mind as this rule continues to be reviewed by Congress and the White House. It is worth noting that the willingness of the White House to reconsider alternatives is a direct result of the input of individuals like you.
Again, thank you for sharing your views on this issue with me. Should you have any additional comments or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me in the future. For more information on my work in Congress, please visit my website at and sign up for my e-newsletter at . You can also connect with me at or receive updates from .
Member of Congress