In a shift that will force the university to modify health insurance policies, new federal health care regulations will require most religiously affiliated employers to provide contraceptive coverage for employees.
Before the decision was announced by the Obama administration last Friday, religious institutions, including religiously affiliated universities, were exempt from providing contraceptive coverage as part of their employees’ health care benefits.
Currently, health insurance purchased or provided through Georgetown University and the Georgetown University Hospital does not include contraceptive coverage. However, employees may choose to subscribe to an alternative national plan that does provide such coverage, according to university spokeswoman Stacy Kerr.
“Georgetown offers separate insurance plans to students and to employees that are tailored to our mission,” she wrote in an email.
In addition to providing university and hospital employees their choice of health insurance options, insurance plans provided by Georgetown are not mandatory for students.
In August 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services released a tentative list of rules and regulations that would be enacted under the auspices of the new Affordable Care Act, including the new policy on contraceptives. The policies were officially adopted last Friday.
Since the changes were proposed in August, Catholic and Jesuit institutions had been actively lobbying to allow exemptions for religiously affiliated universities.
The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities — of which Georgetown is a member — expressed concerns with the regulations in a Sept. 26 letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
“Compliance with these new rules would force us to deny our religious institutional heritage and identity by helping our students to act contrary to Catholic teaching and belief,” the letter read.
The policy has drawn mixed reactions from groups on campus.
H*yas for Choice Treasurer Brad Crist (SFS ’12) said that while the initiative may offend some, Georgetown and other religiously–affiliated organizations have an obligation to provide contraception.
“I understand how Obama’s policy may offend some conservative religious organizations. However, Georgetown must also protect the health and well-being of [its] female employees, and the benefits of birth control extend beyond just contraception,” Crist wrote in an email. “Birth control represents one of the largest costs to women today, and, in my opinion, if we want full health care coverage in this country, [it] should include birth control too.”
President of GU Right to Life Joseph Cardone (COL ’14) was concerned that the ruling would force Georgetown into conflict with its Catholic identity.
“I have a problem with the fact that Georgetown is being forced to provide things [it is] morally opposed to,” he said.
The exact timeline for the implementation of the Obama administration’s policies remains unclear. The rules released by the Department of Health and Human Services dictate that employers must comply by August 2012, but religious institutions may receive a one-year waiver before they are obliged to implement new policies.
Kerr said that Georgetown will comply with all federal regulations.
“If there are any changes to the law, Georgetown will continue to provide health insurance that is legally compliant,” she wrote. “We will be reviewing and evaluating the new regulations, ever mindful of our Catholic and Jesuit identity and mission.”