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Becky Bowers
By Becky Bowers January 31, 2012

Newt Gingrich says government would impose 'Obamacare' standards on religious institutions

Newt Gingrich, on the campaign trail before the Florida GOP primary, called out the Barack Obama administration for engaging in a "war against religion."

Federal officials' interpretation of the 2010 health care law violates religious freedom, he said.

"Their decision last week that they would impose on every Catholic institution, every Jewish institution, every Protestant institution the Obamacare standard of what you have to buy as insurance is a direct violation of freedom of religion, an example of the dictatorial attitude of this administration," he told voters in Jacksonville, Fla., on Jan. 30, 2012.

What decision was he talking about? One about birth control.

His campaign pointed us to criticism from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops of a Jan. 20 decision that "ordered almost every employer and insurer in the country to provide sterilization and contraceptives, including some abortion-inducing drugs, in their health plans," according to the group.

The bishops said "almost every employer and insurer."

We wondered, was Gingrich right that the Obama administration "would impose on every Catholic institution, every Jewish institution, every Protestant institution the Obamacare standard of what you have to buy as insurance"?

'The Obamacare standard'

The rule Gingrich was talking about, announced by Health and Human Services Department Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, addressed which preventive services must be covered by insurers without a co-pay, co-insurance or a deductible paid by the recipient of medical care.

We should mention: There's not a clear "Obamacare standard of what you have to buy as insurance." The law provides for co-pay-free preventive care, which is what Sebelius clarified Jan. 20. And for individual and small-group plans, the law requires that policies cover "essential health benefits." They must include services in 10 categories, but the details have been left to the states.

The idea of co-pay-free preventive care stems from studies that show that even moderate co-pays kept women from getting care, such as mammograms or pap smears, according to HHS. The nongovernmental Institute of Medicine recommended that preventive services include "all FDA-approved forms of contraception." So that's what HHS decided to include in its final rule about preventive services.

Most health insurance plans will have to cover them without a co-pay, co-insurance or a deductible. For most new and renewed health plans, that requirement kicks in Aug. 1, 2012.

Religious exemptions

Notice we said that "most" health insurance plans will have to offer co-pay-free preventive care. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said "almost every employer and insurer."

Gingrich said, "every Catholic institution, every Jewish institution, every Protestant institution."

But the rule provides an exemption for "certain non-profit religious employers" that meet a four-part test -- essentially churches and synagogues, but also some primary and secondary religious schools. 

It's that definition of "religious employer" that has prompted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with the support of groups such as the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, to fight the rule.

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That's because it wouldn't cover religious organizations that don't primarily employ or serve people of the same religion — ruling out many universities, hospitals and charitable groups.

That would require, say, a Catholic hospital to offer insurance coverage to its employees that included FDA-approved contraceptive drugs — which includes some drugs that Catholics consider abortion-inducing. Plan B and Ella prevent fertilization of an egg, prompting the FDA to categorize them as contraceptives rather than abortion-inducing drugs, but Catholics argue that Ella can be used like the abortifacient RU-486, which isn't considered a contraceptive by the FDA.

The government is giving such nonprofit religious groups an extra year to implement the preventive care requirements. But it won't exempt them.

The decision already faces legal challenges from Belmont Abbey College and Colorado Christian University.

Still, if you consider a Catholic church to be a "Catholic institution," or a synagogue to be a "Jewish institution," Gingrich isn't correct that the recent federal rule on contraceptives applies. Those nonprofit religious employers could choose whether or not they covered contraceptive services.

Our ruling

Gingrich said that "the Obama administration ... would impose on every Catholic institution, every Jewish institution, every Protestant institution the Obamacare standard of what you have to buy as insurance." 

He makes a broad statement in reference to a rule dealing specifically with co-pays for preventive care -- making it sound as though there's a blanket "Obamacare standard" for all insurance policies. The reality allows for states to set benchmarks for private individual and small-group plans.

Meanwhile, he ignores an exemption in the federal rule for nonprofit religious employers such as churches and synagogues. That exemption has been condemned by Catholic bishops as too narrow and has been challenged in court. But it makes Gingrich's statement that the rule would "impose on every ... institution" inaccurate and misleading. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Huffington Post, "Newt Gingrich Condemns Obama Administration's Contraception Rule, Calls It A 'War Against Religion'," Jan. 30, 2012

ThinkProgress, "Gingrich Accuses Romney Of Waging A ‘War Against Religion,'" Jan. 30, 2012

ThinkProgress, "Gingrich war on religion," Jan. 30, 2012 via YouTube

Email interview with Joe DeSantis, spokesman for Newt Gingrich, Jan. 30-31, 2012

Interview with Erin Shields, communications director for health care, U.S. Health and Human Services Department, Jan. 30-31, 2012

Email interview with Stephanie Yao, FDA Office of Public Affairs, Jan. 31, 2012

Interview with Timothy Jost, professor at Washington & Lee University School of Law, Jan. 30, 2012

Email interview with Jonathan Gruber, professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, director of the Health Care Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, Jan. 30, 2012

Email interview with Adam Scherr, spokesman for the Church of Christ, Scientist, Jan. 31, 2012

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Bishop vows to fight coercive HHS mandate," accessed Jan. 31, 2012

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Cardinal-Designate Dolan Speaks Out Against HHS Rule, Calls For Action In New Web Video," Jan. 20, 2012

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "USCCB Urges Rescission Of HHS Contraceptive Mandate, Criticizes ‘Inexplicably Narrow’ Definition Of Religious Freedom," Aug. 31, 2011

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "U.S. Bishops Vow To Fight HHS Edict," Jan. 20, 2012

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "USCCB: HHS Mandate For Contraceptive And Abortifacient Drugs Violates Conscience Rights," Aug. 1, 2011

Union Of Orthodox Jewish Congregations Of America, "Union Of Orthodox Jewish Congregations Critiques Administration Denial Of Expanded Exemption For Religious Entities’ Liberties In Health Insurance Plans; Calls On Congress To Redress Through Legislation," Jan. 24, 2012, "Christian Science and the health care reform legislation," accessed Jan. 31, 2012

Los Angeles Times, "Contraceptive mandate could face tough sledding in Supreme Court," Jan. 30, 2012

Health and Human Services, "A statement by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius," Jan. 20, 2012, "Essential Health Benefits: HHS Informational Bulletin," Dec. 16, 2011, "Affordable Care Act Expands Prevention Coverage for Women’s Health and Well-Being," Aug. 1, 2011, "Preventive Care," accessed Jan. 30, 2012, "Recommended Preventive Services," accessed Jan. 30. 2012, "Affordable Care Act Rules on Expanding Access to Preventive Services for Women," Aug. 1, 2011

Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, "About the IOM," accessed Jan. 30, 2012

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Summary of Coverage Provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," April 14, 2011, "Overview of Federal Statutory Health Care Provider Conscience Protections," accessed Jan. 30, 2011

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, "Sen. Toomey Co-Sponsors Bill Requesting Religious Exemption On Health Care Regulation," Oct. 20, 2011

California Family Health Council, "Religious Exemption for Contraceptives kept Narrow Despite Pleas from Catholic Bishops," Jan. 20, 2012, "Feminist Majority Applauds HHS for Rejecting Religious Exemption for Contraceptive Coverage," Jan. 20, 2012

American Journal of Law and Medicine, "Religious exemptions to the PPACA's health insurance mandate," 2011, "Claim: Scientologists, Amish, Christian Scientists, and Muslims will be exempt from requirements to obtain health insurance," April 13, 2010

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