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Notre Dame still required to pay for contraceptive services

Sarah Mervosh | Sunday, February 12, 2012

President Barack Obama’s modification to the contraception mandate, which shifted responsibility for funding contraceptives from religiously affiliated institutions to insurance companies, does not apply to Notre Dame because the University is self-insured.

Law professor Carter Snead said institutions that self-insure effectively function as the insurance company under the new policy. As a result, he said Notre Dame will be required to provide and pay for contraceptives in its insurance plan.

“I’m not persuaded that this shift is meaningful for us,” Snead said.

University Spokesman Dennis Brown said Notre Dame is self-insured, but works with Meritain, a third party administrator that processes the University’s claims and provides administrative services. Calls and emails to representatives from Meritain over the weekend were not returned.

University President Fr. John Jenkins, who has spoken out against the contraception mandate, called Friday’s announcement a “welcome step.”

“The widespread concerns expressed by Catholics and people from other faiths have led today to a welcome step toward recognizing the freedom of religious institutions to abide by the principles that define their respective missions,” he said in a statement Friday. “We applaud the willingness of the administration to work with religious organizations to find a solution acceptable to all parties.”

However, Jenkins said the University still plans to work with the government on unresolved issues regarding the contraception debate.

“We look forward to joining the U.S. bishops and leaders from other religious institutions to work with the administration to resolve them,” Jenkins said. 

Many are calling Obama’s new plan a “compromise” because it addresses concerns about religiously affiliated organizations paying for a product they do not believe in, while still giving women access to free contraceptive services. 

Professor of Political Science Michael Desch called Obama’s plan a “bookkeeping” change.

“It was clearly a compromise position in the sense that the contraception mandate is still there, it is just more of a bookkeeping thing,” Desch said. “It has been placed on the insurance companies rather than the institution.”

Snead, however, said he does not consider Friday’s modification a “compromise,” even for institutions that do not self-insure. He said the new policy still requires religiously affiliated groups to purchase insurance that provides a service that goes against the groups’ moral beliefs.

“It is naive to imagine that the services are truly cost-free and that these costs will not be passed along to the employers who purchase these plans,” Snead said.

However, Desch said the modification was a realistic compromise for Obama and religious groups.

“[Notre Dame’s] ideal scenario would have been [for the government] to completely back off the mandate for contraceptive coverage, but I think it would have been unrealistic to expect that the Obama administration could walk that far back,” he said. “So this is a classic political compromise — both sides can point to it and say they got something out of it.”

Desch said he believes the contraception debate will be just one of many religious issues to pervade politics in the future as the religious and private sector of life increasingly converges with the public and secular sector. 

“There are going to be a lot more conflicts like this down the road,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to make Notre Dame the focus for creative thinking about a new balance between faith and the public sphere.

“It’s a challenge in the sense that issues like this are difficult to resolve, but it is also an opportunity for the University to play a leading role in rethinking, moving forward, how we balance faith and the public sphere.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement Friday opposing the new policy. Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend could not be reached for comment Friday because he was out of the country.