CHA Weighs in On New Women's Health Regs

The Catholic Health Association has joined the discussion regarding new guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services that require, among other uncontroversial preventive service additions, new health care plans after August 2012 to include FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling for women without co-pays. The C.H.A.’s response is more measured than yesterday’s consternation-enriched reaction from the U.S. bishops, describing itself as “both pleased and concerned by the … recent actions on preventive services for women.”

The statement reads: “We are delighted that health insurance coverage must include critical screening services without any cost-sharing. What to some may seem like small amounts as co-pays for mammograms, pap smears, etc., has proven to be an effective barrier to care for women who have low incomes…. Our hope is that eliminating this barrier will result in earlier diagnosis at a treatable stage of many diseases such as cancer and diabetes.”

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But like the U.S.C.C.B, the C.H.A. pronounces itself “very concerned about the inadequacy of the conscience protections with respect to the coverage of contraception. As it stands, the language is not broad enough to protect our Catholic health providers. Catholic hospitals are a significant part of this nation's health care, especially in the care of the most vulnerable. It is critical that we be allowed to serve our nation without compromising our conscience.”

There is cause for concern. According to the guidelines: “Group health plans sponsored by certain religious employers, and group health insurance coverage in connection with such plans, are exempt from the requirement to cover contraceptive services.” Fair enough so far, but then: “A religious employer is one that: (1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets …. ”

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the U.S.C.C.B.’s director of media relations, went to town on the narrowness of these terms: “Health and Human Services must think Catholics and other religious groups are fools,” she wrote. “That’s all you can think when you read HHS’s recent announcement that it may exempt the church from having to pay for contraceptive services, counseling to use them and sterilizations under the new health reform in certain circumstances. As planned now, HHS would limit the right of the church not to pay for such services in limited instances, such as when the employees involved are teaching religion and in cases where the people served are primarily Catholic.

“HHS’s reg conveniently ignores the underlying principle of Catholic charitable actions: we help people because we are Catholic, not because our clients are. There’s no need to show your baptismal certificate in the hospital emergency room, the parish food pantry, or the diocesan drug rehab program. Or any place else the church offers help, either.”

Walsh complains, “The exemption is limited, to say the least. The pastor in the Catholic parish doesn’t have to buy the Pill for his employees, but the religious order that runs a Catholic hospital has to foot the bill for surgical sterilizations. And diocesan Catholic Charities agencies have to use money that would be better spent on feeding the poor to underwrite services that violate church teachings.

According to H.H.S. documents, the department relied on model policies in 28 states and I.R.S. definitions of religious organizations in crafting its “interim” language. It has opened a 60-day public comment period on the new guidelines and has specifically invited comment on the definitions it is using in its religious exemption. That would appear to suggest that it is open to rewording the document in a manner more agreeable to Catholic and other pro-life religious entities.

The C.H.A. statement notes that opportunity and reports that it is planning a formal response. The C.H.A. and the bishops seem to agree that the language as it now stands is insufficient and may force Catholic health, education and other institutions to either offer employees health plans that include contraception or cease operations to avoid such a conscience clash.

In addition to formally commenting on this aspect of the exemption language, the C.H.A. statement suggests it may challenge the administration for including morning after “emergency contraceptive” drugs as part of contraceptive services that health plans must offer.

“We appreciate that the Administration does not intend to include abortifacient drugs as covered contraception,” the C.H.A. says. “Our comments will address our concerns about the mechanism of action of certain FDA-approved contraceptive drugs,” presumably Plan B and ella.

How receptive H.H.S. director Kathy Sebelius and by extension the Obama administration is to the revisions on the religious exemption language suggested by the C.H.A., the U.S. bishops and other Catholic, Christian and pro-life organizations will likely be viewed as a test of the sincerity of administration’s commitment to keep federal funding for abortion out of the health care reform. At some personal cost, C.H.A. President and C.E.O. Sister Carol Keehan played a pivotal role in the concluding, sometimes rancorous debate before the passage of the Obama administration’s health reform package in March 2010. It would be a significant betrayal of Keehan’s effort if the next two months do not produce revisions of the guidelines more amenable to Catholic sensibilities.

At the same time, the Obama administration is already being criticized from some quarters for making any room at all for a religious exemption on contraceptives. It is likely that it will hear more of that argument during the comment period even as Catholic voices weigh in for broader conscience exemptions. That puts it in something of a no-win situation already. If it commits to rewriting the exemption language to the satisfaction of Catholic leaders, it can anticipate a scorching from Planned Parenthood and women’s organizations. And since it is unlikely to reverse the F.D.A. classification of Plan B and “ella” as contraceptives, pro-life groups will remain skeptical of the administration’s intentions on health care reform going forward. If past performance is a reliable predictive, the administration will probably seek a course somewhere in between in a compromise that will probably leave all parties dissatisfied.

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Tom Maher
6 years 4 months ago
The actions of the many new health care law medical boards is preditable: do everything and disregard the cost.  All costs will automatically be paid by the public by steep increases in their medical insurance rates which teh lase mandates everyone to pay.   This decision  is just on of thousands of decisions that will increase the cost of health care contrary to the aim of the Affordable Healthcare law to lessen the cost of health cre insurance premiums which are skyrocketing in price. 

This is just more reason to repeal the Affordable Health Care law - health care cost amd affordability are worsened by the involvment government medical boards mandating more amd more services of every type that the public must pay for. 
Colleen Baker
6 years 4 months ago
As far as contraception goes, 90% of practicing Catholics already use contraception at some point in their adult lives.  This is very much all about a small minority of professional celibate Catholics attempting to dictate a secular government policy that it's own membership soundly rejects.  In a very real way this is using the US government to enforce a religious doctrine on Catholics who in the main dissent from the doctrine. 

Let the KofC provide a Catholic health insurance policy for Catholics whose consciences are bothered by contraception.  That would seem to me to be more pro life on their part than buying the JPII Center.  
RUTH ANN PILNEY
6 years 4 months ago
Colleen, how would you know what percent of practicing Catholics use artificial contraception?  What is your source for that statistic?  Anyway, your figure makes no sense.  First of all, in general, only women use it.  That would not be 90% of practicing Catholics.  Second, if they use it, then it seems they are not ''practicing'' Catholics.

What most concerns me here is that the U.S. Constitution's 1st amendment that protects the free exercise of religion is eroding, so what's next?
6 years 4 months ago
"How receptive H.H.S. director Kathy Sebelius and by extension the Obama administration is to the revisions on the religious exemption language suggested by the C.H.A., the U.S. bishops and other Catholic, Christian and pro-life organizations will likely be viewed as a test of the sincerity of administration’s commitment to keep federal funding for abortion out of the health care reform. At some personal cost, C.H.A. President and C.E.O. Sister Carol Keehan played a pivotal role in the concluding, sometimes rancorous debate before the passage of the Obama administration’s health reform package in March 2010. It would be a significant betrayal of Keehan’s effort if the next two months do not produce revisions of the guidelines more amenable to Catholic sensibilities."

I thought the Obama Administration's slippery slope with respect to federal funding of abortion was simply a "canard" that "Commonweal and other Catholic publications have refuted again and again..."?
John Barbieri
6 years 4 months ago
The bishops care about women's heath?
The C.H.A. thinks Obama will keep his word? 
Colleen Baker
6 years 4 months ago
I guess I'm not quite sure how the 1st ammendment is eroding.  Catholic organizations are free to find private health insurance policies which do not cover birth control.  They are perfectly free to reject any money of any sort from any government agency who they feel impacts their religious expression.  BUT if they are going to hire non Catholic employees or treat other people of other faith persuasions and take tax payer money for those services, then they are bound by the laws that govern that money.

My statement about a new insurance mission for the KoC is not bogus, but it has been ignored.

Ruth Ann, the military passes out condoms like candy.  Birth control is not just a woman's issue.

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