The Obama administration plans to make another change in the rules governing how employer healthcare plans cover birth control, one in a long series of efforts to accommodate religious objections to some contraceptives.
Details of the new rules will not be set for a few weeks, a senior administration official told reporters in Seattle, where President Obama was attending Democratic fundraisers Tuesday. The Justice Department announced the general outline of the change in a filing with a federal appeals court earlier in the day.
Nonprofit religiously affiliated employers such as colleges, hospitals and charities are required to provide contraceptive coverage as part of whatever health plans they offer. But if the organization objects on religious grounds to some or all methods of birth control, the current rules provide an exemption.
The rules require the employer to file a form with the government giving notice of its objection as well as the name of its insurer. The insurance company is then supposed to step in to offer the birth control coverage on its own at no extra cost to covered individuals.
Insurers have been willing to go along with that plan so far on the grounds that covering birth control saves them money in the long run by avoiding costly pregnancies.
Dozens of religiously affiliated employers have challenged that rule in court, saying that filling out the form would violate their religious convictions by making them complicit in the insurers' decisions to provide birth control coverage.
Early this month, the Supreme Court gave Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian school near Chicago, permission not to file the form, at least for the time being. A majority of the justices said that until Wheaton's lawsuit was resolved, the government must allow the school to provide its notification in some other fashion.
“In light of the Supreme Court order,” the administration plans to “provide an alternative way for objecting nonprofit religious organizations to provide notification,” the senior official told reporters, speaking under condition of anonymity. Final details of the new plan will be announced within a month, the official said.