President Barack Obama should get credit for trying to skirt a controversy over health insurance and contraception, California Nurses Association president Deborah Burger said Friday.

"It's a work-around," said Burger, a Sebastopol area resident who heads the 85,000-member nurses union.

To dampen furor over the requirement that Catholic hospitals and charities must include free contraception in their health plans, Obama said Friday that insurance companies, not religious institutions, would pay for birth control.

But Obama's concession is unlikely to quell the outcry from Republicans and Catholic leaders that the health care mandate for contraception tramples on religious freedom, Burger said.

Friday evening, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops said Obama's revamped rule "continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions."

A day earlier, Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa issued a letter to North Coast Catholics saying they "should not be forced to pay for 'objectionable services' in your health care plan," nor be forced to provide those services to their children. Vasa was unavailable for comment on Friday, his secretary said.

Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Katy Hillenmeyer deferred questions to the Catholic hospital's parent organization, St. Joseph Health System.

St. Joseph released a statement saying it "is awaiting the details of the White House resolution to ensure the religious liberties and conscience rights of Catholic institutions."

"We will evaluate the impact on our own policies to gain a better understanding on how this will affect our ministries moving forward," the statement said.

Burger's union represents nurses at Petaluma Valley Hospital, also part of the St. Joseph Health System. Memorial Hospital nurses have their own union.

A specialist in diabetic care, Burger cited a potential conflict between Catholic opposition to birth control and patient care.

Diabetic women of child-bearing age must use contraceptives to avoid pregnancy while taking certain medications to control their blood sugar level, she said. Some of the medications cause birth defects, she said.

Burger also noted that the broader controversy is blunted in California because state law requires that contraception be included in prescription drug coverage.

The law was based on the premise that if erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra are covered, birth control must be as well, Burger said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or