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Birth control: Trump expands opt-out for workplace insurance

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:21 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:19 AM


            In this July 24, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump speaks about healthcare in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington. Trump is allowing more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections, issuing new rules Friday that take another step in rolling back the Obama health care law. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
In this July 24, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump speaks about healthcare in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington. Trump is allowing more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections, issuing new rules Friday that take another step in rolling back the Obama health care law. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump is allowing more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections, issuing new rules Friday that take another step in rolling back the Obama health care law.

Employers with religious or moral qualms will also be able to cover some birth control methods, and not others. Experts said that could interfere with efforts to promote modern long-acting implantable contraceptives, such as IUDs, which are more expensive.

The new policy was a long-anticipated revision to Affordable Care Act requirements that most companies cover birth control as preventive care for women, at no additional cost. That Obama-era requirement applies to all FDA-approved methods, including the morning-after pill, which some religious conservatives call an abortion drug, though scientists say it has no effect on women who are already pregnant.

As a result of the ACA, most women no longer pay for contraceptives. Several advocacy groups immediately announced plans to try to block the Trump administration rule. "We are preparing to see the government in court," said Brigitte Amiri, a senior attorney for the ACLU.

Catholic bishops called the administration's move a "return to common sense."

Trump's religious and moral exemption is expected to galvanize both his opponents and religious conservatives who back him, but it seems unlikely to have a major impact on America's largely secular workplaces.

"I can't imagine that many employers are going to be willing to certify that they have a moral objection to standard birth control methods," said Dan Mendelson, president of the consulting firm Avalere Health.

That said, Mendelson said he worries the new rule will set a precedent for weakening ACA requirements that basic benefits be covered. "If you look at it as a public health issue, it is a step in the wrong direction, and it weakens the protections of the ACA," he said.

Tens of thousands of women could be affected by Trump's policy, but the vast majority of companies have no qualms about offering birth control benefits through their health plans. Human resource managers recognize that employers get an economic benefit from helping women space out their pregnancies, since female workers are central to most enterprises.

The administration estimated that some 200 employers who have already voiced objections to the Obama-era policy would qualify for the expanded opt-out, and that 120,000 women would be affected.

However, it's unclear how major religion-affiliated employers such as Catholic hospitals and universities will respond. Many Catholic hospitals now rely on an Obama-era workaround under which the government pays for the cost of birth control coverage. That workaround can continue under the new rules.

Since contraception became a covered preventive benefit, the share of women employees paying with their own money for birth control pills has plunged to 3 percent, from 21 percent, according to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation figures.

"It was really important for women to have a choice of the full range of contraceptive methods that were FDA-approved," said Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy for the Kaiser foundation. "This will now make it up to the employer whether or not to cover contraception, and whether to cover all methods."

Salganicoff said she's concerned about coverage for implantable devices that are more expensive but also much more effective. "It opens up a lot of opportunities for employers to make choices about the coverage that women have right now," she said.

The Trump administration's revision broadens a religious exemption that previously applied to houses of worship, religion-affiliated nonprofit groups and closely held private companies. Administration officials said the new policy defends religious freedom. In addition to nonprofits, privately held businesses will be able to seek an exemption on religious or moral grounds, while publicly traded companies can seek an exemption due to religious objections.

"No American should be forced to violate his or her own conscience in order to abide by the laws and regulations governing our health care system," Health and Human Services spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in a statement.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the administration's decision.

"Such an exemption is no innovation, but instead a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice, and peaceful coexistence between church and state," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the group's president, said in a joint statement with Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, head of its religious liberty committee.

Officials also said the administration is tightening oversight of how plans sold under the health law cover abortion. With limited exceptions, abortions can only be paid for through a separate premium collected from enrollees.

Doctors' groups that were instrumental in derailing Republican plans to repeal the health law expressed their dismay.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the new policy could reverse progress in lowering the nation's rate of unintended pregnancies.

"HHS leaders under the current administration are focused on turning back the clock on women's health," said the organization's president, Dr. Haywood Brown.

The new rules take effect right away.

___

Crary reported from New York. AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.

Gun range patron shot, killed by employee in freak accident

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 2:07 PM

Texas Man Accidentally Killed At Gun Range

An employee of a gun range in Texas accidentally shot and killed a patron as he worked on a rifle Tuesday morning, police said. 

The patron, Joshua Luke Cummings, 36, of Cypress, had just exited his vehicle in the parking lot of Hot Wells Gun Range when a bullet struck him in the head, KTRK in Houston reported. He was flown to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, where he died.

Harris County Sheriff’s Office officials told the news station that an employee was working on a hunting rifle inside the building when it accidentally discharged.

“The bullet went through the wall of the small range house and struck a patron who was walking through the parking lot,” Harris County Senior Deputy Thomas Gilliland told the news station

It was not immediately clear why the rifle was loaded while the employee handled it. KTKR reported that homicide investigators were looking into whether it was human error or a gun malfunction that caused the gun to fire. 

Cummings’ Facebook page shows that he was the father of three young children. Heartbroken friends said the Cummings children are triplets. 

YouCaring fundraiser page was established to help his wife, Kathleen, and their children. As of noon Wednesday, the page had raised nearly $10,000 of the $25,000 goal. 

“Josh Cummings has always been an amazing father, faithful, hardworking husband completely devoted to his faith, family and friends,” one woman wrote on Facebook. “Until we meet again, goodbye, our sweet friend.”

Hot Wells officials apologized in a statement that they said would be brief because they “simply do not have the words to express the sorrow in (their) hearts.”

“For 44 years, we have operated this facility accident-free, yet today, we are shaken by tragedy,” the statement read

They said that they would have no comment on the details of the accident while the investigation was ongoing. 

“We understand that this accident has, and will continue to affect the lives of many,” the statement read. “We ask that our community joins us in prayer for the healing of all parties involved.”

Newtown marks fifth anniversary of deadly Sandy Hook shooting

Published: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 6:02 AM

Thursday marks the five-year anniversary of the deadly mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, first shot and killed his mother, then went to the school, opened fire and killed 20 children and six staff members before killing himself.

>> PHOTOS: Scenes from Sandy Hook

According to the Hartford Courant, the town is paying tribute to the victims this year with a temporary exhibit featuring photos of the students and educators who were killed in the shooting.

“We ask that you spend a few minutes in quiet reflection as we remember the lives of these vibrant young children and caring adults who were part of the essence of this community as students, educators and friends,” reads a sign at the exhibit. “All of those so tragically killed on that day were greatly loved by their families and friends and they continue to be loved and missed every day.”

The exhibit will be on display through Friday, WTIC reported.

>> Read more trending news 

Additionally, town offices will closed for a moment of silent reflection from 9:30 to 9:45 a.m. Wednesday. Trinity Church will also host an interfaith service at 7 p.m., and St. Rose Church will hold a mass at 7:30 p.m., according to WTIC.

Earlier this week, Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit group created by parents of two of the victims, released a public service announcement urging people to become familiar with the warning signs leading up to mass shootings.

>> Watch the PSA here

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle to spend holidays with royal family

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 4:58 PM

WATCH: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle First Engagement Interview

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are reportedly breaking tradition again with their holiday plans. Kensington Palace confirmed that the former “Suits” star will be spending the holidays with her soon-to-be in-laws at Queen Elizabeth’s private estate in Norfolk, England.

“You can expect to see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and Ms. Markle at Sandringham on Christmas Day,” a spokesperson for the palace  told “Entertainment Tonight”.

>> Read more trending news

This reportedly is breaking royal protocol, as the royal family typically reserves holiday invitations to the Sandringham House for after an engaged couple has wed. The royal family usually spends the holidays at that estate but last year skipped the trip, after the queen and Prince Philip both caught colds.

“The Queen and members of the Royal Family will attend the Morning Service on Christmas Day at Sandringham Church,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement.

Royal Love: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

It was previously reported that the couple would be hosted by Prince William and wife Duchess Catherine for Christmas and would stay at their home in Norfolk. On Christmas Day, the family will attend the church service together before lunch.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are planning for a May wedding at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Following the “I do’s,” they will settle into their new home at Nottingham Cottage in Kensington Palace, where they will be next-door neighbors with Prince William, Duchess Catherine, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and their baby number three, who’s due in April.

Who was Dan Johnson? Kentucky lawmaker accused of sexual assault dies in apparent suicide

Published: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 3:01 AM

In this Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, file photo, Kentucky State Rep. Republican Dan Johnson addresses the public from his church regarding sexual assault allegations in Louisville, Ky. Johnson died Wednesday night, Dec. 13, 2017. Bullitt County Coroner Dave Billings says it was
In this Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, file photo, Kentucky State Rep. Republican Dan Johnson addresses the public from his church regarding sexual assault allegations in Louisville, Ky. Johnson died Wednesday night, Dec. 13, 2017. Bullitt County Coroner Dave Billings says it was "probably suicide," and an autopsy is scheduled for Thursday morning. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)(Timothy D. Easley/AP)

A Kentucky state lawmaker accused of sexually assaulting a teenager died Wednesday night in an apparent suicide, officials said. 

Here's what we know about Republican state Rep. Dan Johnson, who was elected in 2016:

>> Russell Simmons accused of rape by 3 more woman, but ‘vehemently’ denies it

A woman accused Johnson, pastor of the Heart of Fire church in Louisville, of sexually assaulting her in his basement when she was 17. According to a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting article published Monday, she reported the alleged incident, which occurred on New Year's Eve 2012, to police, who later closed the case without filing charges. Read more here.

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Johnson denied the allegation Tuesday at a news conference at his church. "These are unfounded accusations, totally," the 57-year-old pastor said after he and his supporters sang "O Come All Ye Faithful," the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

He added: "I think this is an assault on all real people. This is an absolute assault on real people. There’s no perfect people. You get into office and all of a sudden, political hacks want to come against you and start accusing you after you’re in office."

This wasn't Johnson's first brush with controversy. When he ran for office in 2016, critics slammed him for sharing racist Facebook memes comparing the Obamas to monkeys, as well as numerous anti-Islam messages, WDRB reported. Although the Republican Party of Kentucky called for Johnson to withdraw his candidacy, he stayed in the race and won.

>> Read more trending news

The following post appeared on Johnson's Facebook page Wednesday shortly before his death:

"The accusations from NPR are false GOD and only GOD knows the truth, nothing is the way they make it out to be. AMERICA will not survive this type of judge and jury fake news . Conservatives take a stand. I LOVE GOD and I LOVE MY WIFE, who is the best WIFE in the world,My Love Forever ! My Mom and Dad my FAMILY and all five of my kids and Nine grandchildren two in tummies and many more to come each of you or a total gift from GOD stay strong, REBECCA needs YOU . 9-11-2001 NYC/WTC, PTSD 24/7 16 years is a sickness that will take my life, I cannot handle it any longer. IT Has Won This Life . BUT HEAVEN IS MY HOME. “PLEASE LISTEN CLOSELY, Only Three things I ask of you to do,if you love me is (1)blame no person,Satan is the accuser, so blame the Devil himself. (2) Forgive and Love everyone especially yourself .(3)most importantly LOVE GOD. P.S. I LOVE MY FRIENDS YOU ARE FAMILY ! GOD LOVES ALL PEOPLE NO MATTER WHAT ! "

Officials said Johnson was found dead with a single gunshot wound in a "probable suicide" Wednesday night, WDRB reported. Officers believe he shot himself in front of his car after parking off a road in Mount Washington.

>> Trump on Roy Moore's loss in Alabama Senate race: 'I was right'

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin reacted to the news on Twitter. "Just terrible news from Kentucky tonight on the passing of Rep. Dan Johnson," Paul wrote. "I cannot imagine his pain or the heartbreak his family is dealing with tonight. Kelley and I pray for his loved ones."

Bevin wrote: "Saddened to hear of tonight’s death of KY Representative Dan Johnson...My heart breaks for his family tonight...These are heavy days in Frankfort and in America...May God indeed shed His grace on us all...We sure need it..."

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