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New Policy Makes Insurers Pay For Birth Control

The Obama administration revised its policy on providing cost-free birth control as part of the new health law on Friday. Institutions such as universities and hospitals that are run by religious groups will not be required to provide contraceptive coverage to employees. Rather, the insurance companies offering the plan will pay.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama today sought to defuse the controversy over a rule requiring most employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception. What the administration is calling an accommodation preserves the ability of women to get birth control without paying a deductible or copayment. But as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, it's not clear how the new plan will work or whether it will satisfy all the critics.

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: Speaking in the White House briefing room this morning, the president said the new policy would let religious employers who object to offering contraceptive coverage pass that responsibility back to their insurance company instead.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The insurance company - not the hospital, not the charity - will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without copays and without hassles.

ROVNER: Women's health groups were pleased with the change. Nancy Keenan is president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

NANCY KEENAN: The announcement by the president is a reaffirmation of his commitment and the administration's commitment to ensuring contraceptive coverage.

ROVNER: Even some key Catholic leaders who had protested the original requirement pronounced themselves satisfied. That included people like former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, now running for a swing Senate seat in Virginia, and Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association. But some people, like insurance industry consultant Robert Laszewski, have their doubts.

ROBERT LASZEWSKI: There is no free lunch, and there is no free contraception.

ROVNER: He says it's basically a charade to suggest that insurance companies will pay for contraception without passing that cost right back to their customers, including the religious employers who say they don't want anything to do with it.

LASZEWSKI: What's sort of hypocritical about this is all policies, whether you're a Catholic institution or not, is now going to have contraception without deductibles and copays, and they'll all pay for it. But we'll just pretend the Catholic institutions are not paying for it.

ROVNER: And even those with a somewhat more charitable view of the proposal are still worried.

HELEN DARLING: It isn't clear exactly how it's going to work.

ROVNER: That's Helen Darling. She's president of the National Business Group on Health. She says she's glad the president found a policy that seems to satisfy many on both sides of the women's health-religious employer divide, but she's not convinced how workable this particular arrangement will be.

DARLING: The logistics will be a little bit complicated. There's no question about that. And a lot of questions get raised about privacy and how one is identified as someone who's going to get this different product.

ROVNER: Insurance companies weren't ready to speak for broadcast this afternoon. But in a statement, their industry group said they were concerned at the precedent the new policy could set. Meanwhile, getting lost in all the back and forth were the reasons why the policy was adopted in the first place. Alina Salganicoff is vice president for women's health at the Kaiser Family Foundation. She served on the Institute of Medicine panel that recommended no-cost contraception as part the preventive benefits package. She said it was partly because studies showed the U.S. has a higher-than-average rate of unintended pregnancy. She also said medical literature showed the benefit of contraception when used to space births.

ALINA SALGANICOFF: Allowing a healthy interval of time is very important in promoting healthy moms and healthy babies.

ROVNER: And many women use contraception for reasons wholly unrelated to preventing pregnancy.

SALGANICOFF: There are many other health benefits to contraceptives for women, to manage other conditions, such as endometriosis and other health problems that could really benefit women.

ROVNER: But while the new policy has brought back some doubters, it clearly hasn't ended the dispute. Senators who want the entire policy repealed may try to force a vote as early as next week. Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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