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Administration rethinks contraceptive mandate for religious-affiliated employers

Posted On: Feb. 8, 2012 12:00 AM CST

WASHINGTON—Responding to intense criticism from religious organizations, Obama administration officials say they are considering changes to a health care reform law rule requiring most employers to offer full coverage of prescription contraceptives.

But the extent of those possible changes is not yet known.

The rule, announced last month by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is to go into effect in two stages. For most employers, the mandate will apply to plan years that begin on or after Aug. 1.

Employers, such as hospitals and universities, that are affiliated with religious organizations would have to comply with the requirement for health care plan years that begin one year later.

The mandate would not apply to religious organizations, such as churches, that primarily employ those who share in their beliefs and to employers with grandfathered health care plans.

The requirement has come under intense fire from the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, which views the mandate as a threat to religious freedom, as well as other groups.

At a news briefing Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama understands concerns raised about the mandate and that administration officials will review the policy before it goes into effect.

“We will work in this period…to see if the implementation of the policy can be done in a way that allays some of those concerns,” he said.

President Obama, Mr. Carney added, wants to find the appropriate balance between religious beliefs “and his commitment to making sure that women of all faiths have access to these important health care preventive services.”