The Accommodation That Isn’t

By Tyler McClay, general counsel for the MCC

President Obama’s so-called “accommodation” on the HHS contraceptive mandate changes nothing. Catholic-affiliated hospitals, charities, universities and schools are still going to be required to provide contraception, sterilization and potentially abortion-inducing emergency contraception in their health plans. Saying that the institution’s insurance company will pay for the offending drugs and services changes nothing.

Insurance companies make their money by collecting premiums. If the premiums account for more than what is paid out in claims and overhead, the insurance company makes a profit. Does the Obama administration seriously think that health insurance companies are going to absorb the cost of providing free goods and services to health plan participants without passing the additional cost on to the employers who provide these health plans to their employees?

Have you ever had a car accident or sustained storm damage to your home and NOT seen your premiums increase? As Archbishop Carlson stated in his address at the Rally for Religious Liberty in Jefferson City, “Mr. President, there’s no such thing as a free lunch! Contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs aren’t free. Someone has to pay for them. If the insurance company has to provide them, the cost is passed on to the consumer one way or another – that’s how the economy works!”

Apparently, the Obama Administration hasn’t finished its continued review of this “accommodation.” A willingness to significantly change course, however, isn’t expected. On March 21, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services, announced that it would accept comments until June 12, 2012, “on the potential means of accommodating [religious organizations] … while ensuring contraceptive coverage for plan participants … without cost sharing” (emphasis added).

Clearly, HHS has no plans to rescind the mandate, or to settle for any compromise other than one that provides all women with free contraceptives and sterilization coverage, no matter who they work for – unless their employer meets the strict definition of a “religious employer.”

No longer can Catholic-affiliated hospitals, charity organizations, universities and schools claim to be Catholic and thereby exempt from the mandate. Because these organizations don’t (1) primarily employ Catholics or (2) primarily serve Catholics, they don’t qualify for the “religious employer” exemption. This refusal to truly accommodate Catholic institutions is at the heart of the bishop’s objection to the mandate.

Preventing a Catholic institution from being able to define for itself what health benefits it will provide in accord with its teachings is a denial of religious freedom. Offering an accommodation that forces a Catholic institution to publicly mute its witness to those teachings, claiming that there is no infringement on religious liberty because someone else will pay for and provide the offending drugs and services is no accommodation at all.

This article was featured in the April 2012 MCC Messenger, a quarterly insert into the diocesan newspapers.

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