On February 1, the Obama administration proposed a compromise to a federal policy requiring health insurance plans to provide free contraceptives to women.
The proposal would expand the number of groups that need not pay directly for birth control coverage, the New York Times reports. Some religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, and social service agencies would join churches and other religious organizations as exempted groups.
The 2010 health care law generally requires employers to cover preventative care and screenings for their female employees – care that the Obama administration has said must include contraceptives. Employers that refuse to provide such coverage will face financial penalties.
Under the proposed change, female employees of such organizations could receive free contraceptive coverage through a separate plan provided by a health insurer, which would bear the costs of coverage.
It was the third time in 15 months that Obama has acted to address criticism and lawsuits stemming from the standards it issued in August 2011. The Roman Catholic Church and some Republican lawmakers have been particularly vocal opponents of the policy.
Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, praised the new proposal for affirming that employers cannot determine whether their employees can have birth control.
But opponents were largely dissatisfied with the adjustment to the existing policy. They seek a more explicit exemption for religious organizations and for owners of secular businesses who have religious objections to the contraceptive coverage. Republican House member Christopher H. Smith told the Times that the new proposal was “neither an accommodation nor a compromise.”
The proposal and other compromises Obama has made on the issues suggests the difficulty of backtracking from an unpopular position in negotiations and conflict management.
The administration’s initial standards requiring insurers to cover contraceptives for women were enacted hastily in the wake of the National Academy of Sciences recommendation.
If the president and his advisers had paused to investigate how the public and special interests groups were likely to react to the rule, they might have recognized the value of negotiating with religious groups and conservative politicians on a compromise before the rule was announced.
More broadly, before making sweeping unilateral decisions, take time to consider who will be affected and how they may respond.
Then consider engaging these parties in a dialogue – and avoid the need for conflict management right from the start.