Trump Administration Issues Two New Health Rules

On Friday, Oct. 6, the Trump administration issued two new rules within the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. Announcing the changes in the Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed federal agencies and prosecutors to allow companies with sincerely held religious beliefs to deny employees birth control in their insurance.  Sessions quoted the words of President Trump  from five months ago when he said that, “we will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.” In order to deny insurance to certain employees and not others, companies would need to be exempt from nondiscrimination laws, which are meant to stop employers from discriminating against employees. Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services rolled back on federal requirements instituted during the Obama administration that made birth control coverage a mandatory part of health insurance plans.

The rules instated by the Obama administration had allowed over 55 million women to have access to birth control, and these women are now poised to lose these benefits. The new rules would allow for any employers to deny birth control to their employees, including government agencies, publicly traded companies and municipal government. The Affordable Care Act removed the cost barrier to birth control, but the mandate also caused five years of lawsuits for the federal government. However, the current administration will also be facing litigation from individuals, such as a local school teacher in Denver and from organizations that work to promote women’s and LGBTQ rights.

The rules were positively viewed by groups that fight to defend the first amendment rights to religion. For instance, The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns that had sued the federal government in 2015 because promoting and distributing birth control is against the Catholic faith, and therefore the mandate hindered their religious beliefs. In 2015, the Supreme Court heard seven cases involving birth control and the first amendment, and several cases won. This forced the federal government to make exceptions to who would have to provide birth control. These exceptions included religious institutions, such as churches, and organizations for whom religion was at the core of their mission, such as Hobby Lobby. However, first amendment defenders argued that the exceptions did not include the many organizations and created precedent for further impeding of the first amendment.

In contrast, the current rules allow many organizations to deny birth control coverage in their insurance plans, not just the several exceptions created in 2015 and 2016. Moreover, research shows that the cuts in birth control coverage will increase teen pregnancy rates, infant mortality and the demand for abortions. Indirectly, it could increase crime rates and reduce labor-participation rates. If not considering the economic costs of the new rules, the welfare costs on taxpayers could be as high as $12 billion a year.

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