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HHS Seeks Comments on Religious Exemption to Contraceptive Coverage Requirement - August 30, 2011

On August 1, 2011 HHS added new women's health services to the list of preventative care services non-grandfathered health plans are required to offer without cost-sharing starting with their first plan year on or after August 1, 2012. Included on the list are contraceptives. Due to concerns religious organizations often have with covering contraceptives as part of their employee health coverage, HHS allows an exemption to the requirement to cover contraceptives for a "religious employer." Under the exemption, a religious employer could continue to offer an employee health plan without coverage for contraceptives. 


HHS proposes defining a religious employer as one that:

  • has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose;
  • primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets;
  • primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and
  • is a non-profit organization under IRC sections 6033(a)(1) and 6033(a)(3)(A)(1) or (iii) (i.e., churches, church auxiliaries, conventions and associations of churches).


Under the current definition of "religious employer" many organizations with religious affiliations such as hospitals, counseling centers, nursing facilities and clinics would not be considered religious employers that could qualify for the religious exemption. HHS is currently seeking comments on its definition of "religious employer" as well as the religious exemption. Comments can be submitted until September 30, 2011.