House Oversight Chairman Issa: ‘I Haven’t Looked at’ HHS Sterilization Mandate

By Thomas Cloud | March 21, 2012 | 2:22 PM EDT

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)

( - House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told Tuesday that he had “not looked at” the sterilization portion of the “preventative services” mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Issa said he had no objections to the sterilization procedure itself, but that he was concerned over forcing religious institutions to pay for it.

Issa held a hearing on Feb. 16 about the overall HHS mandate which requires virtually health insurance plans to cover sterilizations, contraception and abortifacients without any fees or co-pay.

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The hearing concerned conscience rights of religious institutions such as Catholic universities and charitable organizations that say the mandate would force them to act against the teachings of their own faith.

The Catholic bishops of the United States have repeatedly said that the regulation violates the individual right of conscience of Catholic citizens and others who object to paying for sterilizations, contraception and abortion on moral or religious grounds.

Under the “preventive services” guidelines issued by HHS, new health insurance plans must “provide coverage without cost-sharing" that includes: “All Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”

On Friday, HHS announced a regulation making clear that this mandate extends to student health-care plans offered at American colleges and universities.

On Tueday, at the U.S. Capitol, asked Issa: “The administration has approved a regulation under Obamacare that says quote “all women with reproductive capacity” including college age women, must be offered free sterilization in their healthcare plans. Do you support the mandate for free sterilization for college age women?”

The California congressman answered: “I haven’t looked at that. As you probably know, I support contraception. I haven’t looked at the question of sterilization.

“I have no, I have no fundamental objections to any of these procedures," said Issa. "What my problem is, is the whole question of, does a religious organization have a First Amendment right to not pay for it? That’s the only area we looked at.”

HHS announced late on Friday, Mar. 16 that the regulation requiring cost-free coverage for sterilizations, contraception and abortifacients will extend to student health plans offered by colleges and universities.

"Under the final rule, students will gain the same protections other people with individual market insurance have, like a prohibition on lifetime limits and coverage of preventive services without cost sharing," HHS said in a press release put out Friday.

In a request for comments on how the student-health-plan mandate will be implemented, HHS spelled out that its "preventive services" included the same items as the overall mandate--including sterilizations.

"As relevant here, the HRSA Guidelines require coverage, without cost sharing, for '[a]all Food and Drug Administration [(FDA)] approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity,' as prescribed by a provider," said the HHS request for comments.