The Obama administration had announced about a year ago that it had planned to repeal a regulation called the 2008 Final Rule, which sought to protect pharmacists, physicians, and other providers of health care while not providing certain medical services for reasons of religion or conscience. The Obama administration promised alterations to make it more clear, and it did so on Friday.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a Final Rule which rescinds, in part, and revises, the December 19, 2008 Final Rule entitled "Ensuring That Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law" (the "2008 Final Rule").

The rule seeks to strengthen the existing health care provider conscience statutes by retaining that part of the 2008 Final Rule that established an enforcement process. At the same time, this Rule rescinds those parts of the 2008 Final Rule that were unclear.

The 2011 rule now also seeks to begin an initiative designed to increase the awareness of health care providers about the protections provided by the health care provider conscience statutes, and the resources available to providers who believe their rights have been violated.

Changes in The 2011 Final Rule

Section 88.1 describes the purpose of the Final Rule and is an alteration of the 2008 Final Rule.

Sections 88.2 through 88.5 of the 2008 Final Rule have been removed. Section 88.2 contained definitions of terms used in the federal health care provider conscience statutes. Section 88.3 described how the 2008 Final Rule was to be applied. Section 88.4 described the requirements and prohibitions under the 2008 Final Rule. while Section 88.5 contained a certification requirement.

Section 88.6 has been re-designated as Section 88.2. Section 88.2 provides that the Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is designated to receive complaints of discrimination and coercion based on the health care provider conscience protection statutes, and that OCR will coordinate the handling of complaints with the HHS.