President Obama came out yesterday with a compromise to the requirement that nonprofit institutions provide contraception coverage. Now employees of religiously affiliated colleges, universities, and hospitals who do not wish to provide birth control can receive contraception coverage at no additional cost directly from the insurer. This seems to be a win for both sides. Catholic run nonprofits get their way and will not have to go against their beliefs and the women who are employed will have access to affordable contraception.
Not so fast. Republicans and some conservative Catholic groups are not satisfied with this. They are now continuing to use their claim of “religious persecution” to deny women access to preventive health services by proposing an amendment that would permit ANY employer or insurance plan to exclude any health service, no matter how essential, from coverage if they morally object to it. Next week Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is expected to offer the following amendment:
“(A) FOR HEALTH PLANS. — A health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits package described in subsection (a) (or preventive health services described in section 2713 of the Public Health Services Act), to fail to be a qualified health plan, or to fail to fulfill any other requirement under this title on the basis that it declines to provide coverage of specific items or services because —
“(i) providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan; or
“(ii) such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.
This would allow an insurer or an employer to claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type 2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an unhealthy or immoral lifestyle. Similarly, a health plan could refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that the plan believes that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer.
Today I read an op-ed by Art Caplan where he creates a scenerio which shows just how dangerous it is to let any organization deny health coverage based on their faith or morality. It demonstrates the dangerous game Catholics are playing with a person’s access to healthcare.
Imagine that the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is based in Brooklyn, NY, creates a printing company that happily employs people from many faiths and cultural backgrounds. The company’s sole task is to print all the Witness literature that its followers distribute door-to-door all over the world. That literature clearly states the Jehovah’s Witnesses adamant opposition to blood transfusion. Then the federal government then issues a national set of minimal standards which all companies operating as public entities must provide as part of the health insurance coverage they offer.
The Governing Body is outraged because on that list are blood transfusions. They issue a statement accusing the President of trying to crush religious liberty by forcing their printing company, which employs many non-Jehovah’s witnesses, to cover transfusions.
I must wonder if the above scenario did come to pass would lawmakers come out en masse decrying the overreach of government. How did the imposition of an insurance mandate on companies operating in the public sphere become an act of religious intolerance? Do those who work in Catholic run companies, hospitals, nursing homes or hospices but do not follow the teachings of the Catholic Church have rights?
With the above amendment being proposed, the type of insurance coverage that would be available to us would be subject to our employers moral and religious beliefs. In essence, our employers would get to decide what healthcare they deem morally appropriate to provide.