Monday, June 4, 2012

Here's To Beating An Issue Into The Ground (On the HHS Mandate)

I'm tired of this issue.

I'm tired of seeing it in newsfeeds and reading articles about it everywhere and hearing complaints about it, from both sides. But we're belaboring a point that apparently still needs belaboring.

It's not about personal feelings toward Catholicism, whether one sees it as irrelevant and archaic or nourishing and alive. The religious conscience must be free to practice its beliefs: paramountly at home, communally at a place of worship, and most relevant in this case, in service to others in the public domain.

The new Health and Human Services mandate, in its current legislative state, will require all employers to include abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization procedures, in healthcare coverage, regardless of religious convictions that believe otherwise. The conscience clause that might exempt some organizations from the HHS mandate is so narrowly-defined that it does not include most Catholic schools and hospitals, outreaches of the Church, which exist solely because of the example of Jesus Christ, and the belief that he instituted the Church to carry on his compassionate work.

Following national outrage, President Obama offered a verbal revision, not written into the law, that would require insurance companies to offer these amenities for free. Yet there's an apparent oversight that nothing is "free" with unabashedly for-profit health insurance companies, and any "free" inclusion would no doubt be subsidized by increased premiums for the objecting organizations. Additionally, this illusory compromise still leaves self-insured organizations without a conscionable solution.

Where is our national identity? Have we forgetten that the freedom to live out personal religious beliefs is protected by our nation's Bill of Rights?

The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization on the planet. Yet it seems we're being told, "You may hold any beliefs you want, as long as they only influence your life at home and at church, and as long as your Catholic behavior only influences other Catholics." We serve others not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.

The morality of contraception isn't directly pertinent here (although it could be argued from a Catholic perspective that mandating the coverage of abortifacents is also an affront to the right to life, as mentioned in the document that kind of started everything). Regardless, whether one believes in some kind of "best practices" for sex, whether there are gray areas in the implicit guidelines of pleasure and procreation (or just pleasure, whatever), or whether it should all just be a free-for-all of anything goes, this should have no bearing on whether Catholics are free to practice their religion in the privacy of their homes or in service to the world, without government intrusion.


  1. Arguments that the health care law infringes religious liberty are largely predicated on a big lie. Notwithstanding the bishops' arm waving about religious liberty, the law does not force employers to act contrary to their consciences.

    Many initially worked themselves into a lather with the false idea that the law forces employers to provide their employees with health care plans offering services the employers consider immoral. The fact is that employers have the option of not providing any such plans and instead simply paying assessments to the government (which, by the way, would generally amount to far less than the cost of health plans). Unless one supposes that the employers’ religion forbids payments of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion), then the law’s requirement to pay assessments does not compel those employers to act contrary to their beliefs. Problem solved.

    Some nonetheless have continued clamoring for such an exemption, complaining that by paying assessments to the government they would indirectly be paying for the very things they opposed. They seemingly missed that that is not a moral dilemma justifying an exemption to avoid being forced to act contrary to one’s beliefs, but rather is a gripe common to many taxpayers–who don’t much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action the government may take with the benefit of “their” tax dollars. Should each of us be exempted from paying our taxes so we aren’t thereby “forced” to pay for making war, providing health care, teaching evolution, or whatever else each of us may consider wrong or even immoral?

    In any event, those complaining made enough of a stink that the government relented and announced that religious employers would be free to provide health plans with provisions to their liking (yay!) and not be required to pay the assessments otherwise required (yay!). Problem solved–again, even more.

    Nonetheless, some continue to complain, fretting that somehow the services they dislike will get paid for and somehow they will be complicit in that. They argue that if insurers or employees pay for such services, those costs will somehow, someday be passed on to the employers in the form of demands for higher insurance premiums or higher wages. They evidently believe that when they spend a dollar and it thus becomes the property of others, they nonetheless should have some say in how others later spend that dollar. One can only wonder how it would work if all of us could tag “our” dollars this way and control their subsequent use.

    The bishops are coming across more and more as just another special interest group with a big lobbying operation and a big budget—one, moreover, that is not above stretching the truth.

  2. In the last three years, our insurance premiums have increased significantly each year. I have no doubt that health insurance companies directly pass on increased costs to the consumer. This can be seen on airline tickets and cell phone bills, as just two examples. It's not so far a jump to recognize that mandating an additional cost to an insurance company is simply an additional cost to the consumer.

    Yes, I'm sure the new government plan will be overloaded very quickly by employers realizing how much less expensive it is to retract this benefit and just pay the fines for not offering health insurance to employees. Make no mistake though. Even as the stigma might decrease for the sheer number of companies that opt for this plan, it's still intended to be a penalty for companies that don't offer health insurance to employees. I respect the companies that are willing to spend the extra money to continue offering health insurance benefits to their employees, and I hope religious organizations are able to participate in this group.

    Finally, there is a difference between the direct monetary support mandated by the government for religious institutions to pay health insurance companies for plans that go against their beliefs, and the indirect support that results from paying government taxes. Yes, a conscientious citizen should still pay taxes, even though we may not agree with all of the government's spending decisions. Yet, we're not held culpable in the dispensation of these taxes.

  3. Charlene: Great post! Thank you. Cindy

    1. Thank you, Cindy! I have the utmost respect for how the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have continued to dialogue with the Administration, fully supporting the need for better healthcare on a national level, but without compromising the fundamental right to freely practice religion.