Mitt Romney doubled down on his new-found objection to contraception coverage during a town hall in Maine on Friday. Romney — who remained mum as Massachusetts implemented a measure requiring insurance companies to cover contraception in 2003, signed into law a health care reform bill that has greatly expanded access to state-funded birth control, and required Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims — told a rowdy crown in Portland, Maine that President Obama’s modified contraception rule does not go far enough:
At the event, Romney also waded into the political fray over the decision by the Obama administration today to require insurers, rather than private employers, to pay for coverage of contraception. The move reversed an earlier decision that would have required religious-affiliated organizations, such as Catholic hospitals, to provide the coverage, prompting an outcry from across the political spectrum. “Today he did the classic Obama retreat all right, and what I mean by that is, it wasn’t a retreat at all. It’s another deception,” Romney said, arguing that that religious organizations still will have to pay for contraception after insurance companies pass the costs along to employers. “Companies consist of people, and someone has to pay — the owners, the employees or the customers, and they pass those costs on to the customers,” he said.
But it’s Romney who is being devious here. Actuaries and real world experiences in covering contraception in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) have found that contraception coverage is at the very least cost neutral within the context of the benefits of the health care plan. And in announcing its compromise on Friday, the administration pledged to work with insurers to issue future regulations that would specifically stipulate that if a religiously affiliated nonprofit chooses to avoid offering contraception in its health care plan, “there be no charge for the contraceptive coverage” for the employer or the employee.
As a senior administration official explained to the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff, “Our policy is saying that the Catholic hospital doesn’t want to cover contraceptives, and they don’t include that in their policy. It also says that Aetna needs to provide contraceptive services for free to workers in the plan. Aetna sets the premium, but it cannot be higher than it would have been without birth control. The premium does not include contraception.” “There is a sort of bank account,” says the official. So, in this particular hypothetical, “Aetna is sucking it up.”
In other words, providing contraception without additional cost sharing will become “a legitimate cost of doing business” for health insurers who work with religious nonprofits, and while they may not be all too thrilled at the prospect, administration officials expect them to agree “that this is going to be a cost-neutral benefit.”