Earlier today, President Obama attempted to “accommodate” religious organizations that are otherwise forced to violate their religious tenants. (See here for details) under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Prior to this “accommodation”, religious organizations claimed that the HHS regulations are unconstitutional by denying religious liberties under the First Amendment. According to the President,
…we’ve reached a decision on how to move forward [today]. Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services -– no matter where they work. So that core principle remains. But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company -– not the hospital, not the charity -– will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.
The result will be that religious organizations won’t have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly. Let me repeat: These employers will not have to pay for, or provide, contraceptive services. But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women, and they’ll no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries…”
But, who pays for the religious organizations’ employees insurance policies? Obviously, the employers (the religious organizations). And we all know that insurers will not eat this cost themselves; thus, who will really be paying? Obviously, the employers (the religious organizations).
Of course, the proposed accommodation provides a new requirement that the religious hospitals carry insurance. Many hospitals wisely choose to self insure (or carry a very large retainage/deductible) for the activities that they provide internally. The President’s “accommodation” does nothing to address this.
Although practically not reported at all (or worse, actually misreported), religious leaders have already expressed grave concern that the Administration’s additional offer does not address the issue. A February 10, 2010 letter from five religious leaders to U.S. Catholic bishops includes the following:
As you have heard, today President Obama announced an upcoming change in the federal rule requiring most private health plans in the U.S. to include coverage for contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can induce abortions.
The Administration’s stated intent is to protect a broader class of religious employers from being forced to pay directly for objectionable coverage or to list it in the plans they offer their own employees. But it does not meet our standard of respecting the religious liberty and moral convictions of all stakeholders in the health coverage transaction. Therefore we remain committed to rigorous legislative guarantees of religious freedom.
We remain fully committed to the defense of our religious liberty and we strongly protest the violation of our freedom of religion that has not been addressed. We continue to work for the repeal of the mandate. We have grave reservations that the government is intruding in the definition of who is and who is not a religious employer. Upon further study we are very concerned that serious issues still remain and we have found numerous problems which we will raise in this letter….
The indication from the Administration that this process will be worked out into the coming year is of grave concern. Prolonging the process of the protection of religious liberty over multiple months is not beneficial or effective for the clear principle of religious liberty and freedom from coercion. In particular, the clear assertion of religious liberty is a matter of justice for our employees.”
The letter concludes by repeating the guidelines for religious freedom, as follows:
Our brother bishops permit us to repeat the principles that are guiding us:
First, there is the respect for religious liberty. No government has the right to intrude into the affairs of the Church, much less coerce, the Church faithful individuals to engage in or cooperate in any way with immoral practices.
Second, it is the place of the Church, not of government to define its religious identity and ministry.
Third, we continue to oppose the underlying policy of a government mandate for purchase or promotion of contraception, sterilization or abortion inducing drugs.”