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Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:21 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:19 AM
WASHINGTON — 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.
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 8:50 PM
DES MOINES, Wash. — When burglars violently broke into a Des Moines, Washington, home mid-afternoon on Wednesday, a teenager hid in a closet and held onto his dog.
But Rex -- a 2-year-old German shepherd -- ran downstairs to protect the 16-year-old.
The dog confronted the burglars, who beat him until he was bloody. The dog ran back upstairs.
With the dog out of sight, the home invasion continued as the two burglars trashed the house room by room. When they came into the bedroom where the teen and the dog were hiding in the closet, and the teen was on the phone with 911, the dog stood up to them with the little strength he had left.
He threw himself at the burglars, the teen's family wrote on a GoFundMe page, and was shot at least three times in the neck, leg and knee.
As the sound of sirens became audible, the burglars ran away.
Officers found smashed sliding door glass when they went into the home to get the teen outside safely. They also found Rex, who at first looked dead.
While SWAT teams looked for the suspects, Rex was taken to the animal hospital.
He was eventually taken to BluePearl, where he is in the veterinary intensive care unit, receiving pain medication, antibiotics and wound care, with round-the-clock monitoring of his vital signs.
After making it through the night, the dog is now in stable condition.
As Rex recovers, people on social media have taken to calling him a "hero dog" for intervening between the burglars and the teenager.
"My nephew was protected by his eternal friend until the last bit of strength he had in him to do what his unconditional, loving instinct told him to," family member Susy Cadena said on the GoFundMe page.
The family started crowdfunding after paying large sums of money for X-rays and urgently needed medication for Rex. They hope to raise $10,000 to cover the expenses.
"Our family cannot let Rex the hero dog go without us fighting as hard as he did, to his very last bit of a strength while protecting my nephew," Cadena said.
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 5:35 PM
BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. — The school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has resigned, according to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.[View the story "Stoneman Douglas resource officer resigns after investigation" on Storify]
Follow along with our live updates as we learn more
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 10:53 PM
SANTA ANA, Calif. — A woman dropping her child off at a Santa Ana, California, middle school is credited with preventing the kidnapping of a young girl walking to school, according to news outlets.
Amy Martinez was on her way to school Wednesday morning when a strange woman approached her and forced her to begin walking away with her, according to KTLA-TV.
"She just came up to me and went like this," the girl explained to KTLA as she described the woman grabbing her in a hug. “And then she started walking with me away.”
The girl screamed out for help and that’s when a good Samaritan, who wanted to remain anonymous, saw what was happening and quickly jumped into action.
She pretended to be the girl’s mother and demanded the woman release her.
"I was basically yelling, 'Let her go,' so as soon as my voice changed, she let her go and Amy walked into my car," the woman said, according to KTRK-TV.
She took the frightened girl to school and called police.
The suspect, identified as Claudia Hernandez Diaz, was arrested and later described as homeless by authorities.
Amy Martinez said the woman who saved her is a “hero.”
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 9:39 PM
JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens was arrested Thursday and taken into custody after a St. Louis grand jury handed down an indictment against Greitens on a felony charge of invasion of privacy, the Kansas City Star reported.
The indictment follows Greitens admission in January that he had an affair in 2015 with a hairdresser, according to news reports, and that he threatened to release a nude photo of the woman if she ever publicly admitted to the affair.
The grand jury determined that the Republican governor took the picture, which showed the woman blindfolded and bound, and that it was taken “in a place where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Authorities launched an investigation last month after the allegations surfaced.
The woman who accused Greitens reportedly told her ex-husband about the affair and the blackmail threats. He went to the media with a recording and accusations against Greitens, the Star reported.
Several lawmakers call on Gov. Eric Greitens to resign after he is indicted for invasion of privacy for taking picture of nude woman he was having affair with without her permission. https://t.co/HrN4WgoUQo— Jean Buchanan (@JABuchanan) February 23, 2018
Lawmakers have called on Greitens to resign in the wake of the scandal, but so far he’s refused.
Now the indictment could prompt impeachment proceedings against him.
The governor has filed a motion to dismiss the charges.
Greitens lawyers just left the courthouse. They have already filed a motion to dismiss the criminal case against the governor. Lawyer Ed Dowd said it charge “unfounded and baseless.” pic.twitter.com/mOjpUUNWmA— Robert Patrick (@rxpatrick) February 22, 2018