Notre Dame health plans will keep contraceptive coverage

The University of Notre Dame informed employees Tuesday that its health care plan would continue to provide contraceptives free of charge, reversing a previous decision.

Just a week earlier, the school had informed employees that coverage for contraceptives would terminate at the end of the year after the Trump administration overturned an Affordable Care Act mandate that required employers to provide such benefits.

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But on Tuesday the university learned that “Meritain Health/Optum Rx” would “continue to provide contraceptives to plan members at no charge,” according to The South Bend Tribune.

“After the US Health and Human Services announcement on October 6, we believed that insurance companies would discontinue no cost coverage for contraceptives for employees at the end of the year,” the university said in a statement. “Since then, we have been informed that Meritain Health/Optum Rx will continue such coverage indefinitely.”

As a Catholic institution, the university claims that by administering and funding contraceptives “independently” of the institution and through a third-party health care provider, it thus remains in accord with “Catholic teaching about the use of contraceptives.”

Although Campus Reform reported November 2 that the school would discontinue providing birth control for students on its health plan, as well, it appears that decision will likewise be overturned, with The Atlantic confirming that faculty, students, and staff will now be eligible for contraceptive coverage.

Third-party providers theoretically allow the Catholic institution to maintain its religious objection to contraceptives, though it’s unclear how, and if, these providers will be reimbursed by the government, as The Tribune notes that in order for third-party providers to receive federal reimbursements, the university would be required to sign an “accommodation” waiver invoking their services.

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However, Dania Palanker, an assistant research professor at the Center on Health Insurance Reform at Georgetown University, told The Tribune that it’s difficult to determine which party decided to keep the coverage without their explicit consent.

"If Aetna and Notre Dame aren't going to tell exactly what happened, we're not going to know exactly who decided to keep coverage," she commented.

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