Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Health

Obama administration proposes contraception compromise

WASHINGTON— After months of criticism and legal challenges, President Barack Obama's administration proposed Friday that religious institutions no longer be required to provide their employees with health insurance coverage for birth control.

Nonprofit organizations that had objected to the mandate on moral grounds, including hospitals and universities, would be able to offer plans that don't cover contraceptives, while their employees could enroll in separate insurance policies that would cover free birth control.

The contraceptives' cost would be paid for through long-term health benefits of preventive coverage and fees insurers pay to participate in the health exchanges set up as part of the federal health care law passed in 2010, according to administration officials.

"The administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

The proposal — the second change to quell criticism in a year — is part of a set of recommendations announced Friday that might be tweaked further after public input. But it still fell short of satisfying critics.

Bishop Robert Lynch, leader of nearly a half-million Tampa Bay Catholics, held off on commenting on the proposed compromise, saying he was waiting for a full review from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Lynch's spokesman, Frank Murphy, said the proposal seems positive at first glance.

Catholic leaders "are pleased at this stage (the Obama administration) is trying to address some of the issues raised by the church," Murphy said. "We'll know next week what this really means."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has been sharply critical of the mandate, said it was reviewing the changes.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has filed several lawsuits challenging the mandate, said it was "extremely disappointed" with what it called an inadequate proposal.

Kyle Duncan, the fund's general counsel, suggested that "very, very few" organizations, if any, are likely to get any relief from the proposed changes. "We were hoping for much, much more from the administration," Duncan said, noting that the proposal would have no effect on for-profit organizations and family-owned businesses.

The White House has struggled for two years to strike a balance between the desire to provide free birth control through health insurance with a need to accommodate the religious freedom of employers who provide insurance but object to contraception on moral grounds.

White House officials declined to answer a series of questions about the recommendations Friday, merely saying that they reflected Obama's views.

"The president has been very clear about his views on this," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "He's been very clear about what he believes are two compelling interests. And he has instructed those who work for him on this issue to be cognizant of those criteria."

Women's groups applauded the move, saying it would ensure that women have access to contraceptives as part of basic health care coverage.

"The principle is clear and consistent," said Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "This policy makes it clear that your boss does not get to decide whether you can have birth control."

The contraceptive mandate spurred more than 40 lawsuits nationwide, filed by employers ranging from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami to the University of Notre Dame. Judges have dismissed many of the legal challenges, reasoning that lawsuits are premature because the mandate hasn't kicked in yet.

In a notable legal victory in December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit kept alive the lawsuits filed by North Carolina's Belmont Abbey College as well as Illinois' Wheaton College. The appellate court, often considered the nation's second most powerful, also set firm deadlines for the Obama administration to write the promised provisions protecting those with religious objections.

The three-page appellate court ruling, issued Dec. 18, ordered the administration to report every 60 days on its progress in revising the contraception-mandate rules. The appellate court also said it took as a "binding commitment" Justice Department promises that a proposed new rule would be ready before April.

Justice Department attorneys pledged that the revised final rule will be ready by August.

Times staff writer Jodie Tillman contributed to this report.

Comments
Compulsive video-game playing could be mental health problem

Compulsive video-game playing could be mental health problem

GENEVA ó Obsessive video gamers know how to anticipate dangers in virtual worlds. The World Health Organization says they now should be on guard for a danger in the real world: spending too much time playing. In its latest revision to a disease class...
Published: 06/19/18
Funded by Alcohol Industry, Federal Study on Drinking Is Shut Down

Funded by Alcohol Industry, Federal Study on Drinking Is Shut Down

The extensive government trial was intended to settle an age-old question about alcohol and diet: Does a daily cocktail or beer really protect against heart attacks and stroke?To find out, the National Institutes of Health gave scientists $100 millio...
Published: 06/16/18
More than a third of American adults take prescription drugs that may increase risk of depression, study says

More than a third of American adults take prescription drugs that may increase risk of depression, study says

More than a third of American adults are taking prescription drugs, including hormones for contraception, blood pressure medications and medicines for heartburn, that carry a potential risk of depression, according to a study published in the Journal...
Published: 06/12/18
Itís time to use the stingray shuffle to avoid a nasty sting

Itís time to use the stingray shuffle to avoid a nasty sting

Courtney Bilyeu was running toward the murky water alongside a few military officers when it happened.She was an accountant for the U.S. Navy at the time. And on her way to take a swim with some coworkers in a California beach, she saw blood. The wat...
Published: 06/12/18
Itís important to wear sunglasses even on cloudy days, ophthalmologists say

Itís important to wear sunglasses even on cloudy days, ophthalmologists say

The next time you head to the drugstore to buy sunscreen, donít forget to pick up some sunglasses, too. Thatís because both products work to protect your body from the sunís damaging ultraviolet rays.Wearing sunglasses for protection should not be re...
Published: 06/09/18
In St. Pete, kidney patients gather for science and solidarity

In St. Pete, kidney patients gather for science and solidarity

ST. PETERSBURG ó Kidney disease doesnít discriminate.The crowd of more than 200 patients who gathered at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort range in age from teenagers to seniors. They are of different ethnicities and come from all over the...
Published: 06/08/18
Mayo Clinic Q&A: melanomas of the eye; how long should you take a beta blocker?

Mayo Clinic Q&A: melanomas of the eye; how long should you take a beta blocker?

YES, MELANOMAS CAN BEGIN IN THE EYEIs it true that melanoma can develop in the eyes? If so, how common is it? How is it treated?Melanomas can begin in the eye, a condition called intraocular melanoma. Treatment for intraocular melanomas used to prima...
Published: 06/08/18
For writer, using a heart rate monitor takes HIIT from frightening to fun

For writer, using a heart rate monitor takes HIIT from frightening to fun

High-intensity interval training is one of the biggest trends in fitness, but it has always seemed a bit scary to me. To a mere mortal with achy knees and an aging body, even the acronym ó HIIT ó sounded intimidating.But recently, I overcame my fears...
Published: 06/08/18
Enjoy broccolini the Italian way: Ďdraggedí

Enjoy broccolini the Italian way: Ďdraggedí

By KATIE WORKMANOne of the amazing things about Italian food is that the best dishes are often so completely, refreshingly simple. Like, four-ingredient simple. (We donít count olive oil and salt. Or water. Or air.) I love broccoli. I can roast brocc...
Published: 06/08/18
What to get Dad? Try a Fatherís Day gift that will do him good

What to get Dad? Try a Fatherís Day gift that will do him good

Dads are notoriously tough to shop for. Theyíre not all that great at dropping hints, the way moms do, and if you ask what your dad might want or need for Fatherís Day, heíll likely say, "Nothing" or "Donít spend your money" or "I just want to be wit...
Published: 06/08/18