They argued that the suggested options regarding coverage through a third-party administrator are all insufficient because the plan itself continues to fund or serve “as a gateway” to facilitate earmarked funding for objectionable products and procedures.
Either by paying for the coverage through their premiums or allowing access to such coverage through the plan itself, objecting organizations will be facilitating something that they consider gravely immoral, they said.
The bishops’ lawyers also pointed out that by having insurers or third-party administrators automatically provide the controversial coverage, women are denied the freedom to decline the coverage or to prevent their minor children from being offered “free” and “private” contraceptives and related “education” without parental consent.
They further noted that the religious rights of third-party administrators and insurance issuers have not been adequately addressed.
The attorneys also voiced concern over the fact that numerous individuals, employers and insurers who object to the mandate are not eligible for the “temporary enforcement safe harbor,” which would delay the implementation of the mandate for one year.
These stakeholders will be subject to the mandate for plan or policy years starting as soon as August 1, 2012, the attorneys warned. In the next few months, they will face the choice of violating their deeply-held beliefs or dropping out of the health insurance marketplace, with the possibility of facing crippling penalties that could put them out of business.
Furthermore, the lawyers said, the advance notice of proposed rulemaking raises new questions, as some of its statements are ambiguous or hypothetical and require clarification.
They observed that the administration has not yet determined how to treat religious organizations that object to some but not all of the coverage, such as Christian groups that oppose abortion-causing drugs but allow for contraceptive use.
In such cases, the government should recognize the conscience rights “of all stakeholders,” whether they object to part or all of the mandated coverage, they said.
The bishops’ attorneys also argued that an organization’s past inclusion of contraception and related coverage should not prevent it from qualifying for an accommodation in the future. The Obama administration has already made previous coverage of such products a disqualification for the “temporary enforcement safe harbor” that is being offered to some groups.
However, the lawyers noted, some employers and organizations may have included such coverage “mistakenly or unknowingly,” and now wish to correct that error in accordance with their conscience.
(Story continues below)
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The bishops’ attorneys emphasized that “the only complete solution to this set of problems is to rescind the mandate.”
Short of that, they said, the administration should at least “adopt an exemption that protects the consciences of all stakeholders with a religious or moral objection to the mandate.”