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White House Will Revise “Accommodation” for HHS Mandate

via the National Catholic Register

by Joan Frawley Desmond

joan desmondIt has taken two and half years, and an explosion of lawsuits , but The Wall Street Journal has reported that the White House will tweak the “accommodation” it provided to religious nonprofits that filed legal challenges to the Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate.

The Journal’s story, and another in the Washington Post odon’t say what precisely  will change. But they credit the U.S. Supreme Court’s July 3 reprieve for Wheaton College, an evangelical institution that also objected to the federal law, as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. You can read my story about the  high court’s ruling that provided a temporary injunction to Wheaton here. The Journal reported:

The Obama adminstration said Tuesday it would revise  a compromise arrangement for religiously affiliated universities and charities that object to providing contrapceiton in workers’ health insurance plans in response to a Supreme Court order this month.

…The Supreme Court’s Wheaton order said that the government should allow the college to simply state its objections to the Department of Health and Human Services, rather than filling forms that authorized its insurer to take on responsibility for coverage.

Justice Department lawyers said Tuesday the govenrment would issue new regulations in the next month that would apply to all nonprofit institutions that say the faith with which they are affiliated is opposed to the use of most forms of contrapcetion.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday:

The administration made its plans known in a legal brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver. The alternative plan, which is still being developed, is in response to a recent Supreme Court order questioning the government’s current process for allowing nonprofit organizations to opt out of a requirement that their health plans cover all contraceptives that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Few specifics have been provided, but the Post said

administration officials suggested that the new process will not replace the old but will rather be added as a second way for nonprofit groups to opt out. Federal agencies “intend to augment their regulations to provide an alternative way for objecting nonprofit religious organizations to provide notification,” a senior administration official said. The official added that the new accommodation will be available “within a month.”

The latest news from the White House has not yet prompted the uncorking of champagne bottles, maybe because nonprofit HHS plaintiffs are already exhausted and dispirited by the ongoing church-state dispute, which will soon begin a new chapter. Last week, Obama issued an executive order approving the inclusion of gender identity as a new protected class in the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA). Despite calls for a broad religious exemption for ENDA, the White House chose a different path. You can read more about ENDA here.

Still, it might be time for a modest hope that the Wheaton College solution — a letter to the government confirming a religious employer’s faith-based oppposition to services covered under the HHS mandate, instead of signing Form 700, which triggers coverage of the HHS mandate to employees — could be the White House’s approved solution. Almost too good to be true. And think how struggling religious hospitals and charities might have spent the many hours and resources they devoted to challenging the federal law.

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