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Health Care Plans To Offer Contraceptive Services To Women With No Co-Pay

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CREDIT: Flickr / brains the head

The Department of Health and Human Services will require health care plans to cover the cost of contraceptive services for women with no co-pay or deductible, officials announced today.

The new rule replaces an interim policy announced in August that gave non-profit religious employers leeway to opt out of offering contraceptive services to their employees. The new final rule will give those employers a one-year period to adjust to the new policy.

“Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, it is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement. “This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing.”

The policy is a setback for groups that had pushed for an exemption from offering birth control by organizations that qualified for a religious exemption. Sebelius acknowledged the tension between goals of religious freedom and public health that led to the decision.

Places of worship are still exempt under the new rule.

“This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty,” Sebelius said. “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services. The administration remains fully committed to its partnerships with faith-based organizations, which promote healthy communities and serve the common good.”

The decision was praised by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“[T]rue religious liberty—which gives everyone the right to make personal decisions, including whether and when to use birth control based on their own beliefs—prevailed over discrimination,” wrote Sarah Lipton-Lubet on the ACLU's Blog of Rights.

Birth control and sex education are significant and controversial policy issues on the national stage. The Health and Human Services announcement comes on the heel of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showing not only that the U.S. has a higher teen pregnancy rate than any other nation in the developed world, but that young people who are becoming pregnant suffer from staggering gaps in knowledge about reproductive health and contraception.

Jon Christian is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Christian.

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