Suit challenges HHS mandate on social justice grounds

The pill contraception Credit Jess Hamilton CC BY NC SA 20 CNA US Catholic News 8 28 12 Jess Hamilton (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The owner of a U.S. manufacturing business is filing an appeal to the Supreme Court over the HHS mandate, both because it violates his religious beliefs and because it interferes with his ability to treat his workers justly.

"I've never checked my faith at the door when I walked into the for-profit business arena" John Kennedy, owner of Autocam, told CNA Oct. 8, explaining that the company's generous health care benefits are "part of our mission as employers … to treat our employees justly."

Autocam is an automotive and medical tool manufacturer based in Michigan and owned by a Catholic family. The company currently employs around 600 people in the United States, and will face fines of about $16 million a year if it fails to comply with the HHS mandate.

The mandate was issued under the Affordable Care Act and requires employers to provide and pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs and procedures in employee health insurance plans, even if doing so violates the employer's conscience or religious beliefs.

The family had filed suit against the federal government, and the case was dismissed by the sixth circuit appeals court on Sept. 17. The Kennedys have announced they will appeal the dismissal to the Supreme Court.

Kennedy explained that while he and his family object as Catholics to the provision of contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, his ability to provide the best possible care for his employees is also of grave concern.

"When you start talking about compelling interest" for the governmental intrusion into his company's health care policy, "what we provide is so outside the norm," he said.

Employees at Autocam earn an average of $53,000 a year, the "higher end" of skilled work, Kennedy explained, in addition to receiving a generous health benefits package. All employees are enrolled in Autocam's self-insured Health Savings Account, and Autocam contributes $1,500 towards employees' $4,000 deductible.

In addition, "we pay 100 percent of all of the preventative medicine" for employees, as well as any medical expenses over $4,000, Kennedy explained. The health plan is less expensive for both the employer and the employees than the national average, and employees pay no premiums.

Furthermore, the plan does not block access to the products and procedures mandated under the HHS mandate – it simply does not pay for them explicitly and directly.

The Health Savings Account that Autocam provides can be used on a variety of health services, which are chosen at the employee's discretion, and can include contraceptives, but those products are not paid for directly by Kennedy himself, nor by his self-insured plan. 

"I don't know who's using their debit card for what," Kennedy said.

The program's generous benefits "were designed with the idea that we're blessed with the service of our employees, so we need to make sure that they're properly taken care of."

"We did that because it is the right thing to do – treating the employees justly."

However, the federal government has told Kennedy that "I, as a director of a company, do not have the right to have any religious or value system while inside a business."

In arguments before the appellate court, Kennedy said he has "been given three options by the government."

The first was to "cooperate," violating his conscience and directly providing and paying for contraception, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilizations.

More in US

The second option that the government offered was to "terminate my plan," simply dropping coverage, he continued.

"From a social justice standpoint, that would not be the right thing" to do, Kennedy said, because the employees would be paying more and receiving poorer health care.

The last option is to maintain an insurance plan while refusing to comply in providing the objectionable products and services, risking up to $16 million in fines per year.

Telling business owners to "separate" their religious beliefs and view of justice from their businesses is troubling, Kennedy said.

"Think about the impact the Catholic social justice call has had on society," he continued, noting that if religious beliefs about social justice were isolated from the public square, many public hospitals, universities and other services would not exist.

"I don't think we want that," he said.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.