Religious Exemption from Required Coverage of Preventive Services

08/04/2011 - 12:44pm


Obamacare lists several categories of preventives that must be offered to health insurance plan beneficiaries for free. The statute when passed, said that the one of the categories would be a list of women's preventive services to be developed in guidelines issued from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

HRSA issued those guidelines on August 1, 2011. The guidelines are controversial because they include all FDA contraceptives--including so-called "emergency" or "Plan B" contraceptives. [Note: the guidelines are separate from the religious exemption regulation. Those who want to comment on the guidelines may submit their comments to]


This regulation provides a narrow exemption from the requirement to cover contraceptives for group health insurance plans maintained by "certain religious organizations."


Unfortunately, the exemption is very narrow such that many religious organizations will be forced to provide contraceptives contrary to their beliefs.

In order to receive an exemption, a "religious employer" meet ALL 4 of the following criteria:

  1. "The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization."

  2. "The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization."

  3. "The organization serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization."

  4. "The organization is a nonprofit organization as described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended."


On January 20, 2012, The Obama Administration issued a press release describing its plans for the yet to be released final rule.

It does nothing to relieve the concerns of non-church religious groups that conscientiously object to being forced to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients for their employees. It does give these organizations a one year waiver before they are forced to comply. The Obama Administration calls this an "appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services."

Update #2

A final rule was published on February 15, 2012. The President announced that instead of requiring religious organizations to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization, his administration would require their insurance companies to pay for it instead.

Many objecting religious organizations do not see this as a solution.

It also doesn't address the concerns of religious owners of non-religious companies.

Moreover, a pre-rule document issued by HHS on March 21, 2012 confirms what many religious organizations suspected--this policy may force them to get rid of their self-insured health plans.

So much for if you like your plan you can keep it.

For more information see the regulation that will carryout the next phase of this policy at: