St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota health plans and religious groups are taking a wait-and-see approach after the Obama administration announced a compromise aimed at stemming the backlash to a controversial health policy.
The administration wanted to require religious-affiliated employers that provide health insurance to cover birth control for free, even if it runs counter to their beliefs. Now the White House says it is shifting that mandate from employers to insurance companies.
Under the new policy, the President says women will be able to obtain free contraceptive services whether or not they work for religious employers. Under the compromise, the religious institution won’t have to provide the contraceptive coverage or have to refer their employees to places that provide it. Under a separate arrangement, the insurance company will offer birth control free of charge directly to policyholders.
Supporters said requiring Catholic organizations to choose between that stance and providing employee health insurance is an assault on religious freedom.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota called the President’s move a good first step that doesn’t go far enough. Spokesman Jason Adkins said the policy should also exempt individual business owners who object to providing birth control on moral or religious grounds.
“People need to focus on the fact that this is not a contraception issue fundamentally; this is a religious freedom issue,” Adkins said. “An analogy I like to use is it’s like forcing a Jewish or Muslim employer who is kind enough to provide lunch for her employees, to provide pork sandwiches, too.”
At this point it’s unclear whether the administration’s move Friday has neutralized that symbol.