This was all so unnecesary, but was par for the course with the Obama administration being is tone deaf and disconnected as usual - Obama Seeks Deal on Birth Control
The White House is looking for a way to address the concerns of religious leaders upset by President Barack Obama's decision to require religious employers to cover contraceptives in employee health plans, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The decision sparked a backlash from Catholic leaders, and the White House is trying to tamp down the dispute as it provides campaign fodder for Republican presidential contenders.
Aides to Mr. Obama met with women's groups Tuesday at the White House to shore up support for the initial decision. At the same time, the administration is looking to move more quickly on a potential compromise aimed at satisfying religious groups that say the requirement violates their religious principles, these people said.
Mr. Obama announced his administration's decision last month after an intense internal debate and discussion with Catholic leaders, who thought he would ultimately exempt all religious employers from the requirement. The president's advisers have been surprised by the firestorm his decision has created and have been debating how to contain it, these people said. Some advisers are arguing that he shouldn't back down, while others are urging a quick compromise.
"There are ways to, I think, help resolve this issue that ensures that we provide that important preventive service, that health care coverage to all women…in a way that also tries to allay some of these concerns," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.
The White House is weighing various options to alleviate some of the criticism, these people said, although it is unclear if anything short of a reversal will satisfy Catholic leaders and other critics.
Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he didn't know of any further communications between the bishops and the administration over the rules, and batted back suggestions of a possible compromise as "sugar-coating…designed to reduce the heat that they are feeling."
One possibility, which was discussed in the internal debate before Mr. Obama's decision, is to model a compromise after a law in Hawaii.
Hawaii law requires health-insurance plans to cover contraception in the same way they cover other prescription drugs. But it allows religious employers to enroll workers in a plan with a reduced premium, and allows employees who want contraception to pay for the coverage out of their own pockets directly to the insurer. The result is no employer funds go toward contraception, and employees don't pay more for contraceptive coverage than if they worked for an employer that did include it.
"If people can opt out of [paying for] specific services, the whole idea of insurance falls apart," said Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health think tank that favors contraception.
The White House has said since Mr. Obama announced his decision that the administration would seek to address concerns from religious employers during the one-year period, beginning this August, before they have to comply with the law.
Republican presidential candidates, who for days have attacked Mr. Obama's initial decision, shifted their attacks Tuesday to front-runner Mitt Romney. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accused Mr. Romney of supporting similar measures during his four-year stint as Massachusetts governor.
"There's been a lot of talk about the Obama administration's attack on the Catholic Church," Mr. Gingrich told a crowd Tuesday in Cincinnati. "Well, the fact is Gov. Romney insisted that Catholic hospitals give out abortion pills against their religious belief when he was governor."
The Romney camp disputed the claim, saying Mr. Gingrich was referring to legislation Mr. Romney vetoed that would have required hospitals to offer emergency contraception. The state legislature overrode his veto, and the resulting law forced hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
"We expect these attacks from President Obama and his liberal friends," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. But to hear it from Mr. Gingrich was "a clear indication of desperation" from the campaign.
Mr. Romney, for his part, continued to focus on Mr. Obama. "This kind of assault on religion will end if I'm president of the United States," he said Tuesday during a campaign stop in Colorado.
Women's groups were among a number of health organizations that attended a meeting with administration officials Tuesday, according to participants. The officials asked women's groups, who have supported Mr. Obama's move, to step up their defense of the decision, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Several of the meeting's attendees said they weren't expecting significant changes to the rules.
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