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Originally published February 10, 2012 at 9:09 PM | Page modified February 10, 2012 at 9:56 PM

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Free birth-control coverage for employers with church ties | Q&A

Questions and answers about President Obama's latest proposal on insurance coverage for birth control.

The Associated Press

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What a bunch of garbage. NOTHING is FREE!!!! Insurancw companies don't give things... MORE
"Free birth-control" The typical lie. It isn't free. Someone is paying for... MORE
(Cardinal) Dolan has said this is just not acceptable. It is sad that Obama chose to go... MORE

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WASHINGTON — Some questions and answers about President Obama's proposal Friday to dampen the political furor over birth-control coverage and religious liberty.

Q: Was the Obama administration going to require churches to cover birth control?

A: No, churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship were not being required to cover the pill. That was never the issue. The battle was over nonprofit institutions affiliated with a religion — for example, a Roman Catholic hospital or a college chartered by a denomination but open to students of all faiths or no faith. The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to artificial birth-control methods, but polls show that the faithful in the pews generally use contraceptives anyway.

Q: What was going to change for the hospitals and soup kitchens?

A: Previously the administration had said such affiliated institutions were basically going to be treated like all other employers and insurance plans. They would have to cover birth control as part of a package of preventive services for women. The only concession was one more year to phase in the changes.

Obama has changed course. Employers affiliated with a religion will not have to provide birth-control coverage if doing so offends their beliefs. However, the insurers that cover those workers will be required to offer birth control directly to women working for the religious employer, and to do so for free.

Q: Are insurers really going to pay for birth control themselves?

A: They may not have any alternative, but eventually they'll figure out how to pass on the cost. An administration report says the cost of providing birth control should not cost insurers more. Contraceptive services are a lot cheaper than paying for pregnancy, labor and delivery.

Officials also say the government has the power to order insurers to do so under the new health-care law.

That may not sit well with the industry. Insurers point out that unless drugmakers stop charging for pills, and doctors decide to prescribe them for free, birth-control coverage isn't free.

Q: How are women who don't work for a church or a Catholic hospital going to be affected?

A: They're not.

Beginning Jan. 1, in most cases, women will have access to birth control at no additional charge through their job-based coverage, as part of a package of preventive services that also includes HIV screening and support for breast-feeding mothers. (Some employers won't have to provide the added coverage, but not for religious reasons. They're considered "grandfathered" under the health-care law.)

Birth-control pills are the most common drug prescribed to women, and medical experts say that planned, optimally spaced pregnancies are good for the health of mothers and infants alike.

The coverage requirement applies to all forms approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That includes the pill, intrauterine devices (IUDs), the so-called morning-after pill, and newer forms of long-acting implantable hormonal contraceptives that are becoming widely used in the rest of the industrialized world.

The morning-after pill is particularly controversial. It has no effect if a woman is already pregnant, but many religious conservatives consider it tantamount to an abortion drug.

As recently as the 1990s, many health-insurance plans didn't cover birth control. Today, almost all plans cover prescription contraceptives — but usually impose co-pays. Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income people, also covers birth control.

Costs for an individual woman vary depending on the form of birth control. Generics are available at Walmart pharmacies, for example, for about $9 a month. Brand-name contraceptives are more expensive, and some IUDs may cost $500 upfront but last up to 10 years.

A government report suggests the average cost to insurers ranges from $26 to $41 a year per woman for providing the coverage.

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