September 26, 2011

September 30 Deadline to Submit Comments on the Religious Employer Exceptions to Preventative Service Coverage

As you know, on Aug. 1, 2011, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued health plan coverage guidelines developed by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to require additional preventive services coverage for women.  The new guidelines expand the list of required preventive services for women to include all FDA approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures and counseling. These preventive services are required to be offered by all individual and group health plans, including self-insured plans and “church plans,” without patient cost sharing, beginning in the first plan year after Aug. 1, 2012.

HHS also issued an Interim Final Rule exempting certain religious employers from the contraceptive and sterilization coverage requirement. Catholic hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities do not meet the definition of “religious employer” as currently included in the HHS Interim Final Rule and therefore we do not have an exemption to exclude coverage of these services in our employee health insurance plans.
We are very concerned about the inadequacy of the religious employer exemption. We have been in contact with the appropriate government officials and are pleased that HHS explicitly acknowledged in the regulation that they are open to alternative definitions of “religious employer.”
CHA has provided written comments to HHS, and we recommend that all Catholic providers consider doing the same. A shorter sample comment letter for your use also is available by clicking here. 
Comments must be filed by Sept. 30 to the Department of Health and Human Services. You may submit comments electronically at!submitComment;D=HHS-OS-2011-0023-0002 and following the “Submit a Comment” instructions. Please be sure to refer to file code CMS-9992-IFC2, which is included in the draft sample letter.
Thank you for all your work on behalf of our ministry, and please contact Michael Rodgers, CHA senior vice president, advocacy and public policy, at (202) 296-3993, if you have any questions about this issue.
Additional Resources:
• HRSA’s required health plan guidelines on Women’s Preventive Services.
• HHS Interim final rule on the religious employer conscience exemption to women’s preventive services requirement.
• CHA’s Press Release on the women’s preventive services regulation.