On March 21, 2012, the Federal Register contained an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking [ANPR] released jointly by the Departments of the Treasury, Labor, and HHS. This ANPR concerns the recent dust-up over coverage of contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act.
For anyone who is interested, the complete ANPR can be found here [.pdf file].
In the Overview of Intended Regulations (Section II, page 16503) we read:
"The starting point for this policy development includes two goals"
"First, the Departments aim to maintain the provision of contraceptive coverage without cost sharing to individuals who receive coverage through non-exempt, non-profit religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage"
"Second, the Departments aim to protect such religious organizations from having to contract, arrange, or pay for contraceptive coverage."
Later in the same section, we read:
"For such religious organizations that sponsor self-insured plans, the Departments intend to propose that a third-party administrator of the group health plan or some other independent entity assume this responsibility."
Notice that the first aim quoted above makes it crystal clear that the administrations’ consistent use of the term “accommodation” is both significant and deliberate. No compromise is intended, and accordingly this ANPR does not seek ideas for any compromise.
Second, the remark regarding self-funded plans reminds me of every manager’s last desperate hope when completely out of ideas: “ . . . and then a miracle happens.” It will be fascinating to see which, and how many, third-party administrators or other independent entities will actually agree to assume this responsibility. It will be equally fascinating to find out how it will be paid for. Who knows, maybe there will be a miracle - I'm guessing that’s what the administration hopes, anyway.