Trump administration proposes new rule allowing employers to deny female staff birth control coverage

Current law requires companies to provide contraceptive coverage for female employees

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The Independent US

Donald Trump's administration has proposed a new regulation that would allow employers to deny birth control coverage to their female staff.

Current law requires companies to provide contraceptive coverage for female employees, with limited exceptions for private businesses with sincerely held religious beliefs. The new proposal would allow any employer to apply for an exemption.

“[The regulation] essentially allows any employer, any insurance company, and any university that provides contraceptive coverage to claim a religious or moral exemption to covering their employees,” Diana Rhodes, director of public policy at Advocates for Youth, told The Independent.

The Trump administration's draft proposal, dated 23 May, is currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

An OBM review is the final step before the regulation is made official. But the rule could take effect immediately after being published.

Birth control is one of the eight essential health benefits that employers are currently required to cover under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare. The ACA does allow private companies with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to opt out of providing such coverage - but the Obama administration never figured out how to do so without requiring religious institutions to fill out burdensome paperwork.

The newly proposed regulation would avoid this problem by allowing all employers – even publicly traded, for-profit companies – to opt out with a simple heads-up to the government.

The draft regulation, as written, would “exempt any entity possessing religious beliefs or moral convictions against the coverage required by the mandate, regardless of its corporate structure or ownership interests”.

The regulation would also allow insurers themselves to opt out of covering birth control, although no insurers have yet said they will do so. It also requires employers to provide separate insurance plans for employees who do not wish to receive contraceptive coverage.

After the ACA’s passage, the number of women of childbearing age paying out-of-pocket for contraceptive coverage dropped from more than 20 per cent to less than four per cent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In 2013 alone, it saved women $1.4bn (£1.08bn) on birth control pills, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Requiring women to pay for their own birth control, Ms Rhodes pointed out, could force some women to take it less frequently - or not at all.

The Republican Party's latest health care proposal, meanwhile, has been estimated to increase the cost of pregnancy by 425 per cent. The liberal think tank Center for American Progress warned the women’s health care premiums could jump by up to $17,060 following a single completed pregnancy.

The Trump regulation would also bypass usual guidelines requiring all regulations from federal agencies to be submitted for public comment before taking effect.

The departments of labour, treasury, and health and human services have decided, the draft says, that it would be “impracticable and contrary to the public interest to delay putting these provisions in place until a full public notice and comment process is completed”.