HHS Mandate Sparks Outcry from Religious Groups



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ABSTRACTHHS Mandate Sparks Outcry from Religious Groups | Heartlander Magazine Education Tech Fiscal Environment Health Finance & Insurance HHS Mandate Sparks Outcry from Religious Groups HHS Mandate Sparks Outcry from Religious Groups March 15, 2012 Kendall Antekeier Kendall Antekeier (kantekeier@heartland.org) joined The Heartland Institute in June 2011 as ... (read full bio) EMAIL Print Email Related Stories Timeline: The Administration's Attack on Conscience February 15, 2012 CLASS Act Exposes ObamaCare Accounting Tricks, but Democrats Oppose Repeal November 29, 2011 Sebelius to Shame Insurers for Rate Increases—on Government Website December 1, 2011 Consumer Power Report: Seven States File Suit Against Obama’s Conscience Overrun February 28, 2012 A requirement under President Obama’s health care law for employers to provide access to insurance coverage of preventative services at no direct cost to employees caused uproar among faith communities and religious organizations when the administration announced in February these services must include abortifacients, sterilization, and contraceptives. Under its initial rule, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated all private insurance plans cover the costs of such prescriptions as preventative care for women. Although representatives of Christian communities had lobbied the White House for months to create a full exemption for organizations which have religious reasons to oppose being forced to pay for these services, their requests were ignored. HHS’s rule included an exemption only for actual faith institutions, such as churches, and not for nonprofits, charities, or hospitals. Organizations would have a year to comply. Religious Freedom v. Federal Requirements Sr. Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops raised concerns over how Catholic hospitals would operate under such a mandate. She says they have been given an ultimatum: abandon their values and go with the government, or be true to their Catholic morals and either violate the law or serve only Catholics, undermining ministry. “We help others because we are Catholic, not because others are Catholic,” said Sr. Walsh. Walsh says the exemption was so narrowly defined that most religious organizations, such as parochial schools and universities, charitable institutions, and religious hospitals, would be required to offer plans that cover contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization services. This met with disapproval from religious organizations who disagree with such medical practices on the basis of moral principle, and concerns the decision infringed on their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. In a letter to HHS criticizing the mandate, University of Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins stated, “It’s about religious freedom, it’s not about contraception.” Attempt at Compromise In response to the high level of outrage from religious organizations, political leaders, and the public, the Obama administration decided to announce what it called a compromise. The new policy has not yet been released as a new rule from HHS, but according to a White House press release, “Under the new policy … women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she works. If a woman works for religious employers with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to offer contraceptive care free of charge.” White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew stated, “hopefully now this [compromise] will set the issue to rest.” Organizations such as Planned Parenthood praised the administration’s decision, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the move an “accommodation,” and “an appropriate balance between religious beliefs and access to preventative services for women.” ‘It’s Not a Compromise’ However, many of the opponents of the Obama administration’s initial approach are unsatisfied with the proposed compromise. The new version of the mandate does nothing to protect religious liberty, and still forces religious organizations to compromise their moral conscience, says Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC. “The new rule does the exactly the same thing. It puts religious employers in the position of having to chose between providing their workers with free access to contraceptives … or not providing those workers with health insurance at all and paying a large fine,” Levin said. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) went even further, claiming the administration’s compromise was nothing more than an “accounting trick.” “It forces the insurance company … to pay to do the coverage. So instead of making the institution itself [pay], it reinforces the insurer, and a lot of these Catholic institutions are self-insured,” Ryan said in a pres.......