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After the Trump administration dialed back a controversial mandate in the Affordable Care Act that required companies to cover birth control in their health plans, Texas lawmakers had strong reactions and businesses are seeking clarity on what it all means.
In Washington, the responses came along party lines, with Republicans praising the ban as a victory and Democrats lamenting the consequences for women dependent on company-provided birth control.
Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted his support for the motion. “Today the administration ended a policy that was repugnant to our country’s tradition of religious freedom,” he wrote.
Texas House Republicans agreed — Rep. John Ratcliffe of Heath called the decision a “big win for religious freedom,” and Rep. Roger Williams of Austin call said it was “reinforcing the importance of religious liberty in America.”
But Democrats and health policy analysts came out swinging against the revision.
Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett tweeted, “Birth control is health care. This decision could make contraception unaffordable for many. Stop attacking women’s health.”
Fort Worth Rep. Marc Veasey blasted Trump on Twitter for “doing everything he can to undermine families and women who want to be responsible.”
Stacey Pogue, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for Progressive Public Policy Priorities in Austin, said that the rule compounded difficulties Texas women face in acquiring birth control such as access to providers and stigma.
“Adding back in making it unaffordable, especially for low income women, makes it so much harder to make sure they can avoid an unintended pregnancy,” she said.
Of the more than 200 groups that filed lawsuits in opposition to the Obama-era mandate, there were a handful from North Texas, including Criswell College and the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. Bishop Edward Burns reiterated his stance Friday.
Government regulations that force people to make the choice between religious beliefs and work are “harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good,” he said.
“Freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions.”
In the meantime, health benefits managers at corporations across the U.S. are in the process of negotiating the options that employees will sign up for during open enrollment.
Experts don’t anticipate that a plethora of North Texas companies will drop contraceptive coverage from their offerings, in the short or long term, however.
“There’s a real business reason to offering coverage for abortion and contraceptives,” said Marianne Fazen, executive director of the Dallas-Fort Worth Business Group on Health.
For one, few companies would take the route that Hobby Lobby chose, and publicly take a controversial position that draws unwanted attention to their organizations.
But more importantly, large employers benefit from coming up with the most competitive packages that they can offer.
“It’s a way to recruit and retain talent and experience to their workforce. Offering rich benefits is a key business mandate that runs all the way up to the c-suite,” Fazen said.
The bigger challenge might be for smaller companies, some of which have struggled to provide affordable benefits to staff amid rising premiums.
The new rule allowing them to choose whether to opt out of birth control coverage could lead to a "very slippery slope" where companies seek to pick and choose what parts of the law to follow, said John Arensmeyer, CEO of the Small Business Majority, a coalition of about 55,000 small business members in the U.S. That would further disrupt marketplaces.
Still, at least one small business owner — LaRonda Hunter, a salon franchise owner from Forth Worth — says she can see the benefit of being able to opt-out of certain coverage to keep premiums low for staff. “Right now, I can’t afford to offer insurance at all,” she said.
“I would consider every option.”