"There's a much brighter line here — a simpler line — and we think that responds to a good many of the comments that we got," said Michael Hash, director of the Health and Human Services office of health reform. More than 400,000 comments were submitted over the last several months, the agency said.
Judy Waxman of the National Women's Law Center, an advocacy group based in Washington, said she would prefer women hear directly about the coverage from their insurer, but her organization could accept the plan. "It's fair," she said.
However, Eric Rassbach, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm challenging the contraception coverage rule, said "it doesn't really change the overall way they're trying to do this." The Becket Fund represents many of organizations challenging the regulation in federal court.
The Catholic Church prohibits the use of artificial contraception. Evangelicals generally accept the use of birth control, but some object to specific methods such as the morning-after contraceptive pill, which they argue is tantamount to abortion, and is covered under the policy.
The lawsuits are split almost evenly between nonprofit plaintiffs — including several Roman Catholic dioceses — and for-profit businesses who say the rules go against their religious beliefs. For-profit businesses are not included in the accommodation released Friday and were not eligible for the time extension.
The Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is the largest and best-known of the businesses that have sued. On Thursday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver allowed the lawsuit to move forward on religious grounds. The judges said the portion of the law that requires them to offer certain kinds of birth control to their employees is particularly onerous and sent the case back to a lower court in Oklahoma. On Friday the lower court granted Hobby Lobby a temporary injunction against full enforcement of the law. Businesses that fail to comply potentially face fines based on the number of workers they employ and other factors. The amount for Hobby Lobby could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Many of the nonprofit lawsuits had been put on hold until the final rules were announced.
Neither the Catholic Health Association, a trade group for hospitals, nor the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had an immediate reaction Friday, saying the regulations were still being studied. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the bishops' conference, said he appreciated the time extension.