Health insurance you get through work won't have to cover birth control anymore

It's a change from an Obama-era requirement.

A new policy announced by the Trump administration Friday lets companies exclude contraception coverage from the health insurance they offer workers. 

It's a change from an Obama-era requirement which said health insurance offered by employers must cover preventive care, including birth control. 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in Friday's statement companies whose owners have religious or moral objections to that requirement can now opt out of it.

If they do, that would mean women on those companies' health plans who want birth control would need to pay for it with their own money. 

How many people will this affect?

It's too soon to know exactly, and there's a big disagreement among the predictions. 

HHS said about 200 companies and nonprofits have gone to court challenging the mandate to cover contraception. And the department said employees with those companies may be the only people affected by the change. 

They said more than 99.9 percent of the women in the U.S. will be unaffected by the rule change. 

Some health policy experts are skeptical of that claim. 

Dania Palanker of Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms told NPR a lot of business owners may not have wanted the publicity and expense of suing the government, but will opt out of the contraceptive mandate now that it's an option. 

"It is a huge loophole for any employer that does not want to provide birth control coverage to their employees," Palanker said. 

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, put out a statement calling the Trump administration's move "unconscionable," and urging the state's employers to "disavow this effort to strip Minnesotans of their health care."

Religious freedom or discrimination against women?

The rule change is not a total surprise because President Donald Trump had signaled in May that it might be coming. 

He issued an executive order telling his Cabinet to consider changing regulations "to address conscience-based objections to the preventive care mandate."

On Friday the Cardinal Newman Society, a Catholic education group, applauded the administration's new rule, saying, “All Americans should embrace religious freedom and conscience rights, no matter what party or belief system they subscribe to.”

The National Partnership for Women and Families said the change in policy discriminates against women and warns that it "would take us back in time to when women had to choose between paying for birth control and paying off their student loans." 

In its announcement, HHS said the policy change took effect immediately on Friday. It won't be published in the Federal Register until next week, though, and a public comment period continues through Dec. 5. 

In bureaucratic lingo, the policy is peculiarly known as an "interim final rule." The whole 100-page document and instructions on how to file a comment are here.

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