Religiously affiliated organizations will be able to opt out of providing their employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives under updates to an Obama administration mandate that the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to unveil on Friday, according to two sources.
In March, after an uproar among religious institutions that didn't want to pay for contraceptives, the Obama administration offered several policy suggestions that would require the administrator of the insurance policy, not the religious institution or the insurer, to pay for contraception coverage and invited comment on those proposals.
The administration is expected to detail how it will handle two of the more controversial situations, said a source familiar with Friday's announcement.
"Religiously affiliated organizations will be given the option of exempting themselves from the requirement of providing their employees with contraceptive access or service that they are morally opposed to," said the source.
A spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department refused to comment on the expected policy announcement.
If an institution opts out of paying for contraceptive coverage, individual employees will get coverage through a third entity. That separate exchange, said the source, would be paid for by the insurance company.
The second proposal would address self-insurers, organizations that are large enough to pay for their own health care costs, such as a large Catholic diocese.
Those groups, according to the source, will be exempt from having to provide contraceptives, but their employees would be allowed access to contraceptive coverage through other means.
The original mandate on providing contraception was part of the Affordable Care Act and required that insurers provide, at no cost to those insured, all FDA-approved forms of contraception. Houses of worship have been exempted from the start, and the administration last year widened those exemptions to include other religiously affiliated organizations, like universities and hospitals.
That still left groups across a wide spectrum of faiths, many of whom teach that use of contraception is morally wrong, covered by the mandate. They denounced it, saying it infringed on their religious liberty. A group of 43 Catholic organizations challenged the rules in federal court in May.
The administration has defended the mandate.
"The president's policy respects religious liberty and makes free preventive services available to women," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in March when the initial change in policy was announced. "Today's announcement is the next step toward fulfilling that commitment."
Another issue expected to be dealt with Friday in the policy announcement is how a religious organization is defined.
The policy proposals are not final and could be changed depending on public reaction.