President Obama's recent compromise on a rule mandating health insurance plans to fully cover birth control calmed furor among some religious groups but failed to mollify the mandate's toughest critics.
Under the compromise, announced Feb. 10, all insurance plans would still have to cover birth control without charging deductibles, co-pays or coinsurance. Nonprofit hospitals, charities or other groups that have religious objections would not have to reach out to employees to offer the coverage. But the health plans covering their employees would have to provide the coverage without charging extra for it. Churches, synagogues and other places of worship would still be exempt from the mandate.
"The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions," Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, said in a statement.
The compromise also won support from the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, Catholic Charities USA and the Broad Coalition of Faith Community Leaders, among other groups.
But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sharply criticized the compromise and renewed its call for Congress to overturn the mandate. In a statement, the bishops said the mandate "continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions."
Most health plans, including employer-sponsored plans, will be required to fully cover birth control and other preventive services for women starting Aug. 1 of this year. Nonprofits with religious objections will have an extra year to comply.
Not all religious groups had pushed for the compromise. Two days before the compromise was reached, 20 religious leaders representing Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations said they supported the mandate.
"The administration was correct in requiring institutions that do not have purely sectarian goals to offer comprehensive preventive health care," the groups said in a Feb. 8 joint statement. "Our leaders have the responsibility to safeguard individual religious liberty and to help improve the health of women, their children, and families."