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Compromise on birth control flap probably best answer

Feb 15, 2012 - By The Los Angeles Times

The continued wrangling between the Obama administration and the Roman Catholic Church over federally mandated insurance coverage for family planning services illustrates another reason why employer-provided health insurance is a less than optimal model. It seems wrong to require employers to provide coverage they find morally reprehensible, but equally wrong to let them make moral decisions for employees.

President Obama is offering a compromise that takes into account the priorities of all concerned. Religiously affiliated employers -- largely Catholic hospitals, schools and universities -- would not have to pay for contraceptive coverage, but employees who want the coverage could request it, and the insurance company would provide it without raising the cost of their premiums. The insurance industry has accepted the solution because it's less expensive to pay for family planning than for pregnancies.

Some Catholic groups have praised the compromise, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops continues to object that this interferes with religious rights. Its previous objection was that faith-based groups should not have to pay for services that conflict with their religious beliefs; now that the cost issue has been eliminated, it's unclear in what way their rights would be violated. Further, the bishops want legislation passed to give all employers the right to deny coverage that conflicts not just with their religious convictions but with moral ones as well.

It follows logically that if faith-related organizations are allowed exemptions from insurance mandates based on their beliefs, so should other employers. And yet this is the best argument for exempting no one. And what about the rights of employees? Why don't their moral beliefs come into play?

Twenty-eight states, including California, require coverage of contraception if the plans cover other prescription drugs, though they do not categorize it as "preventive care." Some provide exemptions for religious employers; others don't. The bishops object to the idea of contraception as preventive care because pregnancy is not an illness. True enough. But for some families, pregnancy is an unwanted medical outcome.

The best way to resolve the debate is not by digging in but by compromising. No compromise is perfect, but Obama's accommodation makes sense for all parties, and the bishops should accept it.

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