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Catholic university in Ohio drops student health plans

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Catholic university in Ohio has become the first college to drop its student health plans in the wake of the Obama administration's requirement that employee and student plans include all FDA-approved birth control.

The administration initially excused churches from the mandate for employers to cover contraception, but after other religious groups complained, Mr. Obama outlined a separate exemption for religious charities, colleges and hospitals where their employees and students could obtain contraception coverage directly from the insurer in a separate plan.

Religious groups were given an extra year to comply with the mandate, extending the deadline to August 1, 2013.

"The fact that there will be no room one year from now for students to offer health coverage that does not provide contraceptives," said David Schmiesing, Franciscan University's vice president for student life. "There's no room for that one year from now with the current situation. It's hard for me to see how that's a compromise."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday said the rules are not nearly broad enough to ease their concerns that religious groups will be forced to pay for contraception their faith forbids - although indirectly.

"The central problem remains that conscientiously-objecting non-exempt religious organizations will still be required to provide plans that serve as a conduit for contraceptives and sterilization procedures to their own employees," they wrote. "And their premiums will help pay for those items."

But the move didn't pacify religious employers, who want the contraception mandate overturned entirely.

After Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced the mandate early this year, Republicans have unsuccessfully tried to block it in Congress and a half-dozen Catholic and evangelical colleges, seven states and several business owners have filed lawsuits.

Franciscan officials wouldn't say whether they intended to either join any of the lawsuits or file their own, but said the exemption for churches is the only one that goes far enough because it doesn't require any coverage for employees and they're sure they don't qualify for that one.

"That's one of the stingiest exemptions I've ever seen," said spokesman Tom Sofio. "You literally have to be a cloister convent of nuns with 100 percent of them being Catholic."

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