Late last week, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury (Departments) issued two interim final rules expanding certain exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage mandate. These final rules expand the availability of the religious exemption to include most employers that object to providing contraceptive coverage based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions, and they make the accommodations approach optional for eligible organizations. This guidance, which is effective immediately, significantly expands the number of employers that are eligible for an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate.
Under the expanded exemptions, a plan sponsor, issuer and plan covered by these exemptions will not be penalized for failing to include contraceptive coverage in the plan’s benefits. The two new regulations issued by the Departments are intended to end long-running litigation challenging the Departments' existing “religious accommodations” approach by:
- Extending the exemption to include nongovernmental employers, issuers and individuals that have sincerely-held religious or moral beliefs objecting to contraceptive or sterilization coverage; and
- Making the accommodations approach optional for eligible organizations.
Under these new rules, employers that claim an exemption may voluntarily, but are not required to, provide any self-certification or notice to the government. The legal challenges to the accommodations approach have focused on whether the requirement to self-certify (or notify HHS) of an organization’s objections infringes on religious liberty by making the organization complicit in the provision of contraceptives. The new rules are intended to end this litigation by making the self-certification requirement optional.
Download this compliance bulletin for additional information.