When President Obama announced his first accommodation of religious objections to HHS' contraception mandate last month, the big unanswered question had to do with faith-based organizations that are self-insured. How could the administration require the insurance companies that (typically) manage their plans to cover contraception when the actual payments for health care are made the organizations themselves? This was sufficiently consequential for Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to use it to rationalize her vote in favor of the Blunt Amendment.
Late Friday afternoon, HHS gave its answer: One way or another, some entity would be found to pay for the coverage (except for student plans, which would require a change in the law). Announcing the new accommodation, the Obama Administration made clear that it is proceeding on the basis of two principles: 1) free contraceptive coverage for women under the Affordable Care Act; and 2) deference to religious organizations who don't want to pay for that coverage (and only that coverage) themselves. The ball is now in the court of the religious opponents of the mandate.
The quickie reactions on Friday suggest that hard-core opponents will not be mollified. "At the end of the day, no accounting gimmick changes the fact that the mandate forces religious organizations to pay health insurance companies for coverage to their employees with drugs and services that simply violates their religious convictions," Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, told RNS' David Gibson. But if the burden of payment is really shifted, as HHS proposes, that's not true. What's true is that, at the end of the day, the policy will mean that by insuring their employees, religious organizations that don't meet the Administration's criteria for churches and other strictly religious bodies will thereby enable their female employees to receive free contraceptive services.
If the Catholic bishops, for example, consider that to be intolerable cooperation with evil, then they will maintain their opposition. But then they should acknowledge that the issue is not about paying for services they oppose but wanting to make it harder for the women in their employ to obtain those services. Meanwhile, it will be harder for relative moderates in Congress like Sen. Collins to continue to cast their lot with the opponents. And if Republican majorities in both Houses continue to do so, then, as John McCain warned over the weekend, the GOP-is-anti-woman bumper sticker will only become more plausible.