WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. government on Friday made several targeted moves to circumvent the mandate under Obamacare that health insurance provide birth control.
Officials said they would broaden exemptions to include public companies, following through on a long-held promise by Republican President Donald Trump.
Trump in May signed an executive order asking for rules that would allow religious groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor to deny their employees insurance coverage for services they oppose on religious grounds.
On Friday, officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the agency was proposing to broaden those narrow religious exemptions to include moral exemptions for both non-profit and profit companies.
At the same time, the U.S. Justice Department unveiled new “religious liberty” guidance that will likely serve as a legal roadmap to justify the new rules and help the Trump administration chip away at the contraception coverage requirements in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Under the 2010 ACA, often called Obamacare, employers are required to provide health insurance that covers birth control, but religious houses of worship are exempted. Some private businesses sued regarding their rights to circumvent such coverage, and the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that they could object to the rule on religious grounds.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups said earlier this year they would challenge the Trump administration if it proposed such a rule.
If that happens, the Justice Department will likely use its new guidance, issued in two separate memos, to defend the government’s position.
The first memo, directed toward the department’s lawyers, provides a legal framework for reviewing religious liberty issues. A second one was directed to all federal executive departments and agencies. It lays out 20 principles they should use in the course of “employment, contracting and programing.”
Reporting by Caroline Humer; Editing by David Gregorio