Word leaked early this morning that the White House was poised to unveil a "compromise" on contraception coverage, and on a conference call at 10:30, two senior administration officials sketched out what they described as a "common-sense solution."
The new policy effectively finds a work-around to address the concerns raised by Catholic Bishops: instead of having religiously-affiliated employers cover contraception as part of their insurance plans, the Obama administration will have the insurance companies themselves cover the costs themselves. One official explained:
"All women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services. The insurance company will be required to reach out directly and offer her contraceptive coverage free of charge."
It's a safe bet the Bishops won't be satisfied, but it's a pretty straightforward fix: religiously-affiliated employers that don't want to pay for contraception coverage as part of their benefits packages won't have to, but these employees will still get the coverage because the White House will instruct insurers to pick up the costs.
An official on the call described access to this preventive care as the "core principle" that the White House considers "inviolate." The new announcement, the official added, leaves this principle "unchanged."
"All women will still have access to preventive care, and that includes contraceptive services, no matter where they work," the official said. It will be the same "guaranteed" benefit for these employees as in "any other workplace."
The comparison that will be referenced a lot today are the parallels between this and the Hawaii policy, and one of the senior administration officials stressed that while the policies are similar, they're not identical -- the state law offers a separate rider with a fee, while the new Obama administration policy does not.
While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will very likely be unimpressed, several major stakeholders in this fight have already offered praise for the White House move. Planned Parenthood, for example, endorsed the compromise, issuing a statement saying, "In the face of a misleading and outrageous assault on women's health, the Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work. We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman's ability to access these critical birth control benefits." Similarly, EMILY's List said it was "reassured" by the new policy, and NARAL Pro-Choice America's statement struck a similar note.
What's more, Sister Carol Keehan and the Catholic Health Association have also endorsed the administration's position, which not only offers the White House some political cover, but also further isolates the Bishops. In a statement, Keehan said, "The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed."
For the White House, having support from both the Catholic Health Association and Planned Parenthood was critical.
If insurance companies can make the implementation work, it would appear this policy carefully threads a needle. The right's talking points all week, when not attacking contraception itself, were based on the notion that it's an "assault on religious liberty" to force religious employers to honor the contraception mandate. They've now lost that talking point.