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Franciscan University drops student health insurance plan over birth control mandate, costs

The Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio will drop health insurance coverage for students this fall rather than comply with a federal mandate that its plan provide free birth control.

University officials on Tuesday also cited rising insurance costs for their decision to end student health coverage.

“The Obama Administration has mandated that all health insurance plans must cover ‘women’s health services’ including contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing medications as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA),” according to a university statement. “Up to this time, Franciscan University has specifically excluded these services and products from its student health insurance policy, and we will not participate in a plan that requires us to violate the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacredness of human life.”


“Additionally, the PPACA increased the mandated maximum coverage amount for student policies to $100,000 for the 2012-13 school year, which would effectively double your premium cost for the policy in fall 2012, with the expectation of further increases in the future,” the statement said.

The university will no longer require its undergraduates to carry insurance, according to the statement. "We didn't want to put them in a situation where they would have to violate their conscience," Michael Hernon, a vice president at Franciscan University, told Reuters.

Fewer than 200 students at the campus in southeast Ohio had been buying insurance from the university, Hernon told Reuters. Franciscan University has nearly 2,800 students.

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Earlier this year, the Franciscan was among 18 Catholic colleges in a letter-writing campaign, calling for President Barack Obama to change the government's mandate for religious institutions to offer preventative care services, including contraceptives. Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the rule. 

Several Catholic and evangelical Christian universities have challenged the contraceptive mandate in court. Those cases have not yet come to trial. Hernon told Reuters that the university is weighing a lawsuit.

With the new health insurance year set to start in August, however, administrators at Franciscan University chose not to wait for the court's ruling. In addition to the contraception mandate, they said they were concerned that premiums for the student plan would rise because the Affordable Care Act also mandates other specific services be covered.

So the bulletin advised students that they should begin to figure out their insurance plans.

"We encourage you to decide how you are going to provide for accidents or illnesses requiring visits to physicians, health clinics, or the hospital emergency room while you are a student here," the announcement said.

The university will maintain its health insurance plan for faculty, for now. That plan does not cover birth control. Hernon said administrators are "looking at all the options" as they decide how, or whether, to continue the plan in the future if the contraceptive mandate is upheld.

The university, which was founded 60 years ago to serve World War Two veterans, is ranked as one of the top-tier private colleges in the Midwest. It boasts on its website that its academics and culture are "grounded in a passionately Catholic faith tradition."

Msnbc.com's Sevil Omer and Reuters' Stephanie Simon contributed to this report.

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