Washington D.C., Jul 9, 2013 / 09:59 am
Days after the U.S. bishops indicated the HHS contraception mandate remains unacceptable, the Catholic Health Association has approved the government's accommodation.
"CHA had two principal concerns. The first was the four-part definition of what constituted a 'religious employer.' That concern has been eliminated," Sister Carol Keehan, president of CHA, announced in a July 8 memo to members of the organization.
"CHA's second concern was establishing a federal precedent that mandated our members would have to include in their health plans, services they had well-established moral objections to," she continued.
"HHS has now established an accommodation that will allow our ministries to continue offering health insurance plans for their employees as they have always done."
On June 28, the Obama administration issued its final rules regulating the federal contraception mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and drugs which can cause early abortions.
Issued under the Affordable Care Act, the mandate has become the subject of lawsuits from more than 200 plaintiffs who claim that it forces them to violate their deeply-held religious convictions. The rules issued June 28 were supposed to have addressed religious liberty concerns.
The CHA represents over 600 hospitals and 1,400 other health facilities, and is the largest group of non-profit health care providers in the U.S.
Sr. Keehan wrote that "we are pleased that our members now have an accommodation that will not require them to contract, provide, pay or refer for contraceptive coverage."
At the same time, she acknowledged that the final rule have "not been what some organizations, including the Bishops' Conference, asked for on behalf of a wider group."
On July 3, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, explained that the U.S. bishops' conference "has not discovered any new change that eliminates the need to continue defending our rights in Congress and the courts," and that the mandate continues to threaten the Church's ability "to carry out the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ."
Under the finalized rules, "churches, other houses of worship, and their affiliated organizations" will be exempt from the mandate, yet faith-based groups not affiliated with a particular house of worship, such as many religious hospitals, schools, and charities, are not covered by the exemption.
Those groups have been provided with an "accommodation" under which insurance issuers must "provide payments for contraceptive services" directly to female employees of those groups.
Cardinal Dolan indicated that this accommodation "seems intended to strengthen the claim that objectionable items will not ultimately be paid for by the employer's premium dollars," but added that it remains "unclear whether the proposal succeeds in identifying a source of funds that is genuinely separate from the objecting employer, and if so, whether it is workable to draw from that separate source."
He also noted that the mandate creates different categories of religious freedom, distinguishing among employers that receive a full exemption, those that receive only an accommodation, and the for-profit businesses that receive no exemption whatsoever.
In a June 15 letter, the CHA had said it is "imperative" that the Obama administration abandon its "narrow" definition of religious employers and exempt not only churches, but also Catholic hospitals, health care organizations, and other Church ministries.
The CHA was a major backer of the Affordable Care Act, with Sr. Keehan receiving one of the pens used by President Obama to sign the bill into law as a token of thanks.