Which Catholics Offer Birth Control? Look To The Insurers Catholic universities and hospitals argue they shouldn't have to offer contraceptive coverage, but many Catholic insurance companies have been making it available for years.

Which Catholics Offer Birth Control? Look To The Insurers

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WADE GOODWYN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Wade Goodwyn. The Affordable Care Act requires that most health plans offer birth control to women. Around the country, Catholic hospitals and universities have been arguing in court that having anything to do with insurance coverage of contraceptives violates their freedom of religion. But it turns out that Catholic health insurance companies have been quietly arranging for contraceptive coverage for many years. Julie Rovner of our partner Kaiser Health News has been looking into this apparent contradiction. Hi, Julie.

JULIE ROVNER: Hey, Wade.

GOODWYN: What are these catholic organizations arguing?

ROVNER: Well, you might remember that purely religious employers - churches or places where everyone is of the same religion - they're exempt from the requirement that their insurance cover most birth control without any additional cost to the woman. But the administration has made several attempts to help religious organizations that hire people of all faiths to arrange coverage from sort of an arm's-length distance. These are mostly hospitals and universities. They've claimed that even filing a form to the government saying they object to offering such coverage makes them, quote, "complicit in this sin of artificial birth control."

GOODWYN: But you've found several Catholic insurance companies that do make the coverage available to their policy holders. How does that work?

ROVNER: That's right. For example, the second most popular insurance plan on New York's health exchange this year is a Catholic plan called Fidelis. It doesn't provide contraceptive coverage directly, but it has arranged coverage through an outside provider in Michigan. That's apparently what most Catholic health plans out there do. They get a third party to provide that coverage. And now we're expecting to see more Catholic insurers as big Catholic hospital systems start their own insurance plans.

GOODWYN: So why haven't the Catholic insurance plans raised the same objections to providing contraceptive coverage that the hospitals and universities are?

ROVNER: Well, both the insurers and the hospitals and universities say they're interpreting a document that lays out the rules for Catholic healthcare. But the insurers, at least if they want to sell to the public, in more than half the states are required to offer contraceptive coverage. And those laws long predated the Affordable Care Act or the fights over it now.

GOODWYN: If it's OK for the Catholic insurance plans to arrange for coverage, why isn't it OK for Catholic hospitals or schools to do it?

ROVNER: Well, that's the big question. I think a lot of this was kind of going on under the radar. A lot of Catholic hospitals and universities were also providing contraceptive coverage as part of their health insurance until this whole issue blew up in 2011. And now at least one bishop is wondering whether what the insurers are doing is OK or not.

GOODWYN: Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News. Thanks, Julie.

ROVNER: Thank you.

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