Much as we’d rather wind down the week by sharing our own thoughts on Blade Runner 2049, the president has derailed that discussion by returning to his old ways. Trump has once again dropped a bombshell shortly before peace-ing out for the weekend, with NPR reporting that he’s rolling back the Obama-era mandate that required employer-provided insurance plans to cover birth control costs. Senior officials at the Department of Health and Human Services indicate that the current administration will implement a new rule that will “allow any company or nonprofit group to exclude the coverage for contraception if it has a religious or moral objection.”
The Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare, for those angry with the gummint), requires employer health plans to cover preventive health care, which the HHS defined a little too broadly for corporations as well as religious groups like The Sisters Of The Poor, which NPR notes had sued the Obama administration over birth control. So the previous administration offered an exemption that allowed churches and other religious groups to opt out of this birth control mandate, which essentially meant that someone would work out the birth control access directly with the employer/group’s insurance provider on behalf of the employer. Hobby Lobby successfully sued over the mandate just before the Sisters Of The Poor launched their legal action, and just as the Supreme Court was working out that decision, Trump became president. And now he’s keeping the promise he made to the nuns, possibly in some misguided attempt to avoid the fiery depths of hell.
The director for the HHS office of civil rights, Roger Severino, claims that “this provides an exemption, and it’s a limited one. We should have space for organizations to live out their religious identity and not face discrimination,” which inadvertently perpetuates the onerous GOP belief that “corporations are people.” According to NPR, Severino “expects that most companies will continue to provide coverage for birth control and that the changes will only affect a tiny percentage of U.S. women.” Never mind that there are 74.6 million working women in the U.S. (not counting those in the military), which equals about 47 percent of the workforce.
Severino didn’t elaborate on just what a “tiny percentage” might be, but Georgetown University professor Dania Palanker, of the Center on Health Insurance Reform, tells NPR this is a significant change. “It is a huge loophole for any employer that does not want to provide birth control coverage to their employees,” Palanker says, while also noting that though the new rule probably won’t strip all or most women of birth control access, “many women” will once more have to pay out of pocket.
The ACLU has interrupted the latest episode of our dystopian present by announcing plans to sue the federal government over this reversal, which is among the legal challenges NPR indicates the White House will likely face.