Mandate on contraception coverage could be weakened further

Georgians reacted with dismay and cheer Friday to news that the Trump administration is moving to roll back a mandate that health insurance policies cover contraception.

The mandate already exempted houses of worship, and it was weakened following a court case filed by the company Hobby Lobby, which is owned by evangelical Christians who did not want to include contraception in the insurance it offered employees. The administration is quickly acting to broaden that exemption well beyond small private companies such as Hobby Lobby.

Staci Fox, the president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said if fully implemented, the result is likely to result in more abortions.

“I think what happens when women don’t have access to contraception is the rates of unintended pregnancy go up,” Fox said. “Plain and simple, a woman’s most basic and personal decision, when and where to have a child, could be impacted by their boss.”

Republican state Sen. Renee Unterman framed it as a cost issue. “My opinion is if you’re ever going to get insurance costs down, I think the consumers should have the choice on what they want to pick and choose from,” said Unterman, the chairwoman of the Senate’s health committee.

As to the notion it will increase abortions, she said, “If you don’t have money to pay your insurance premium, you don’t have money for an abortion.”

The news website Vox obtained a leaked copy of the rule. Rather than go through common lengthy procedures, the proposal could become a done deal as soon as it’s published in the Federal Register. The May 23 version posted by Vox would essentially allow any employer to apply for a moral or religious exemption. Vox said there was no way of knowing how much it would resemble the final version.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price issued a statement in early May saying he welcomed the opportunity to revisit the contraception mandate, saying “religious liberty is our country’s first freedom.”

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention welcomed the news of the coming rule change with “gratitude and hope” in comments published in the Baptist Press. The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s president, Russell Moore, espied an end to “the audacity of a state that believes it can annex the human conscience.”

Price and his wife, Betty, worship at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, a key member of the Convention.

What insurance should cover is a vexing question. Insurance companies’ worst nightmare would be if people could just request coverage of what they need — cancer patients, for example, could sign up just for chemotherapy coverage. Insurance works because people pay for things they probably won’t need.

But no one loves paying for coverage they don’t use. Many women, for example, have policies with companies that cover drugs for male sexual disorders.

A study in Health Affairs found that the contraception coverage mandate had saved U.S. women $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs per year on the pill alone.

Religious concerns, however, have brought the contraception issue to the fore. President Donald Trump’s order that Price and two other Cabinet secretaries revisit the rule told them “to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”

Women’s rights groups are likely to challenge the proposal in court.

All of that has made it a tricky issue for politicians.

The representatives of some — Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue and congressional candidates Karen Handel, a Republican, and Jon Ossoff, a Democrat — declined to comment to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday or said they would need more time.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat, said in a statement that pulling back the coverage would result in unintended pregnancies. He called it “mindless” when combined with the administration’s proposal to cut back on a federal nutrition program for infants and children.

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