White House: Colleges must cover birth control for students

Most universities will have to cover birth control in their students’ health plans, the Obama administration said Friday.

The Health and Human Services Department said student health plans will be treated like employees’ plans, meaning they will have to comply with new requirements under healthcare reform — including the requirement to provide contraception without charging a copay.

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The contraception mandate has sparked intense criticism from some religious groups and Republican lawmakers. They say it violates employers’ religious freedoms by forcing them to provide a service they find immoral.

Religious universities will treat their student plans the same as their employees’ plans, administration officials said Friday. That means they will not have to directly offer contraception in their plans, but students and workers will be able to get birth control from their insurance companies without a copay.

Women’s-health groups praised the administration's announcement.

“For many women, especially college students, birth control is not only a health care issue, it is a financial issue. Covering birth control with no co-pays means college students will not have to choose between paying for tuition and books, or paying for basic health care like birth control,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a statement.

Religious schools that self-insure, rather than contracting with an insurer, do not have to provide contraception to their students. How the mandate will work for the employees of self-insured religious institutions is still being decided.

HHS outlined three options on Friday and is asking for public comments on whether those ideas are feasible. Under those proposals, third-party administrators — the companies that manage employers’ self-insured plans — would provide contraception, similar to the role that insurers would play for traditionally insured businesses.

The third-party administrators might be asked to pay for the benefit out of other revenue streams, so that religious employers’ money doesn’t directly fund birth control.

HHS also suggested tapping multistate insurance plans to offer contraception for people who work at self-insured religious institutions. Those plans could receive a credit against other fees to help cover the cost of the benefit, administration officials said.