The Obama administration is aiming to give employers with a religious objection an easier way to opt out of providing birth control under the Affordable Care Act, while also preserving no-cost access to contraception for women.

The new procedure, released on July 10, is part of final regulations that also spell out minor changes to the implementation of the ACA’s covered preventive services, which include contraceptive services.

Under the new reporting pathway, nonprofit religious employers and certain closely held for-profit companies with religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptives can write a letter to the US. Department of Health and Human Services stating their objections and desire to opt out. HHS will then notify the insurer about the objection and the insurer becomes responsible for making separate arrangements for women in the plan to receive no-cost contraceptive services.

HHS had offered this alternative pathway to nonprofit religious employers as part of an interim final rule published in August 2014. Previously, religious employers had been required to notify the health plan about religious objections.

Following the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that extended religious exemptions beyond nonprofit religious employers, HHS issued a proposal to provide the same religious exemptions and reporting options to certain closely held for-profit companies with religious objections to contraception.

The latest final rules were issued jointly by HHS, along with the Departments of Labor and Treasury. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the regulation strikes the right balance between providing access to contraception and respecting religious views.

Other Democrats, however, were critical of the latest accommodation. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the announcement allows a wide range of businesses to have power over the health care decisions of the women they employ. But she laid the blame on the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

“Women should be able to make their own decisions about their own bodies, and no one should have to ask their boss for permission to get the health care they need,” she said in a statement. “I’m committing to continuing to fight, along with the administration and all my colleagues, to fix this Supreme Court–issued license to discriminate.”

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, praised the regulation for making clear that women will be able to get birth control without a copay regardless of where they work. But the regulation shouldn’t be necessary in the first place, she said.

“A private company shouldn’t be able to pick and choose what health care services they provide to their employees because they are women, LGBT, or any other class of people,” she said in a statement . “The Supreme Court was wrong to allow companies to discriminate against their employees this way, and Congress needs to pass legislation to fix it.”

mschneider@frontlinemedcom.com

On Twitter @maryellenny

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