Stunner on birth control: Trump’s moral exemption is geared to just 2 groups

Few people were surprised last week when the Trump administration issued a rule to make it easier for some religious employers to opt out of offering no-cost prescription birth control to their female employees under the Affordable Care Act. But a separate regulation issued at the same time raised eyebrows. It creates a new exemption from the requirement that most employers offer contraceptive coverage. This one is for “non-religious organizations with sincerely held moral convictions inconsistent with providing coverage for some or all contraceptive services.”

So what’s the difference between religious beliefs and moral convictions? This story originally appeared on Kaiser Health News, a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Senate Democrats delay HHS nominee over women’s health funding

Last week, 65 administration nominees — including four to Health and Human Services — sailed through the Senate confirmation process by unanimous vote without any debate. One candidate left out was Dr. Brett Giroir, a Texas physician, who is the president’s choice for assistant secretary of health. Now, shedding light on their reservations, Senate Democrats are saying that Giroir’s testimony before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee left them skeptical that he would support women’s health programs, which they say are under threat. The Democrats are insisting on a roll call vote on the Senate floor — after the Senate reconvenes Sept. 5. The position for which Giroir is nominated includes oversight of the Office of Population Affairs, which administers Title X grants, and the Office of Adolescent Health, which oversees the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Taking a U-Turn on benefits, big employers vow to continue offering health insurance

The shrinking unemployment rate has been a healthy turn for people with job-based benefits. Eager to attract help in a tight labor market and unsure of Obamacare’s future, large employers are newly committed to maintaining coverage for workers and often their families, according to new research and interviews with analysts. Two surveys of large employers — one released Aug. 2 by consultancy Willis Towers Watson and the other out Tuesday from the National Business Group on Health, show companies continue to try to control costs while backing away from shrinking or dropping health benefits. NBGH is a coalition of large employers.

Under Trump, hospitals face same penalties embraced by Obama

Amid all the turbulence over the future of the Affordable Care Act, one facet continues unchanged: President Donald Trump’s administration is penalizing more than half the nation’s hospitals for having too many patients return within a month. Medicare is punishing 2,573 hospitals, just two dozen short of what it did last year under former President Barack Obama, according to federal records released Wednesday. Starting in October, the federal government will cut those hospitals’ payments by as much as 3 percent for a year. Medicare docked all but 174 of those hospitals last year as well. The $564 million the government projects to save also is roughly the same as it was last year under Obama.

Obamacare exchanges in limbo

California’s Obamacare exchange scrubbed its annual rate announcement this week, the latest sign of how the ongoing political drama over the Affordable Care Act is roiling insurance markets nationwide. The exchange, Covered California, might not wrap up negotiations with insurers and announce 2018 premiums for its 1.4 million customers until mid-August — about a month later than usual. Similar scenarios are playing out across the country as state officials and insurers demand clarity on health care rules and funding, with deadlines fast approaching for the start of open enrollment this fall. “It’s insane,” said John Baackes, CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan, which has about 26,000 customers on the California exchange. “Here we are in the middle of July and we don’t even know what rules we will be operating under for open enrollment.