Healthcare

Trump officials roll back birth control mandate

The Trump administration on Friday rolled back an ObamaCare requirement that employers include birth control coverage in their health insurance plans.

Under highly anticipated rules published Friday, any for-profit or non-profit employer or insurer can stop following the birth control mandate on moral and religious grounds.

The changes also let publicly traded companies obtain a religious exemption but not a moral one.

The rules take effect immediately.

ObamaCare mandated that employers offer health insurance that covers birth control without a co-pay, with exemptions for houses of worship and some companies.

According to senior HHS officials on a press call Friday, employers will not have to file anything with the government to stop offering the birth control coverage; instead, they simply have to notify their employees of the decision.

The move could potentially impact millions of Americans who now receive birth control with no co-payments.

The changes follow an executive order President Trump signed in April that instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to address "conscience-based objections" to the mandate, which has faced strong opposition from religious schools, charitable organizations and priests and nuns.

Shortly after Trump's executive order, former HHS Secretary Tom Price vowed he would take "action in short order to follow the president's instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees."

The decision is a big win for social conservatives, a voting bloc that strongly supported Trump in the presidential election.

Senior HHS officials who declined to be named said the intent of the rule is to provide "relief" to groups that have been engaged in legal battles over the mandate since its inception in 2012.

"We should have space for organizations to live out their religious ideas and not face discrimination because of their religious ideas. That was the case beforehand, and that ends today," said one HHS official.

The officials argued that 99.9 percent of women won't be affected by the rule, a conclusion they reached by considering the 200 entities that have participated in lawsuits against the federal government over the mandate.

An earlier study commissioned by the Obama administration showed that more than 55 million women have access to birth control without co-payments because of the mandate.

When the mandate was implemented, it required all health insurance offered by the vast majority of employers to cover at least one of 18 forms of birth control approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The action has already drawn lawsuits.

Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Women's Law Center said Friday they would challenge Trump administration's changes in court.

"Today's outrageous rules by the Trump Administration show callous disregard for women's rights, health, and autonomy. By taking away women's access to no-cost birth control coverage, the rules give employers a license to discriminate against women," said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the NWLC.

"This will leave countless women without the critical birth control coverage they need to protect their health and economic security. We will take immediate legal steps to block these unfair and discriminatory rules."

Top Democrats quickly criticized the move as bad for women's health.

"This is wrong, it's outrageous, and I will be pushing every Republican who claims to care about women's health and economic security to join me in fighting back against it," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Health Committee.

Conservative groups cheered on the changes as a win for religious freedom.

"This onerous mandate is a burden on employers, individuals, and religious organizations who, because of their beliefs concerning the protection of unborn human life, are faced with the decision to violate sincerely held religious or moral beliefs, pay steep fines, or forgo offering or obtaining health insurance entirely," said Melanie Israel, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation.

"Americans will remain free to make their own decisions about, and purchase or find coverage for, the drugs and devices at issue in the mandate. And, entities with objections will not be forced to be complicit in choices that would violate their religious or moral convictions."

Updated at 1:55 p.m.

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