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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Waiting on the HHS Mandate & the Church

Obama's HHS Mandate

Statement of Archdiocese of Washington
in Response to the Finalization of the HHS Mandate

June 28, 2013 – After almost two years and over 400,000 public comments, the government today finalized the HHS mandate. We have begun to review the 110-page final rule to determine whether or not it addresses our longstanding concerns. Our review and analysis of the complex rule should help us answer important questions concerning who determines which institutions are religious and, therefore, exempt, who is forced to have this coverage, and who must provide it. The new regulations are being closely studied and a more comprehensive statement will follow at a later date.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan:  “Although the Conference has not completed its analysis of the final rule, some basic elements of the final rule have already come into focus.”  He said the U.S. Conference of Bishops “has not discovered any new change that eliminates the need to continue defending our rights in Congress and the courts.”  He argues that the HH Mandate still threatens the Church’s ability “to carry out the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.” 

A FEW PERSONAL COMMENTS

We are still waiting anxiously for the response of the U.S. Bishops to the latest accommodations in the HHS Mandate from the Obama administration.  The deadline of August is rapidly coming upon us and what happens next could be devastating to our hospitals, schools and charity works.  It troubles me that the Catholic Health Association acts unilaterally without regard to the decisions of the USCCB.  The latest version of the mandate exemption is being studied by our shepherds and yet the CHA has already come out in support of the measure.  This is not new given that they supported it even when the bishops did not a year ago.  I am just a poor priest, but my reading of the mandate makes me think that this latest revision is merely another round of the shell game we suffered before.  There is still nothing on the table for commercial operations that have a mission paralleling the Church’s.  Individual Catholics and those having businesses must participate.  There is the plight of notable Catholic organizations like EWTN and the Knights of Columbus.  The administration staunchly insists that employees MUST have free birth control pills and coverage for abortifacients and sterilization.  When it comes to the question as to who will pay, the government is creative but consistent:  whoever pays, it will NEVER be the person who wants sex but not pregnancy.  The administration will officially redefine the meaning of the marital act, bloodying the hands of all with the sacrifice of innocent children.  Saying that we will not have “to contract, provide, pay or refer for contraceptive coverage” is a legal fiction.

Distinctions are being made that are somewhat hard to follow.  First, there is FULL EXEMPTION from the contraceptive mandate.  This is in regard to Internal Revenue Code, Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii), which “refers to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.”  Second, there is the NON-EXEMPTION in reference to non-profit faith-based groups not directly affiliated with the Church, such as certain hospitals, schools and charities.  These groups are being offered an “accommodation.”  Third, there is NON-EXEMPTION with no accommodation.  This would include large apologetic efforts, television, radio stations, and even small operations like a privately own Catholic gift shop.  This group would be treated as any secular operation and would have to fully comply with the mandate.

It is thrown into the faces of the bishops that most Catholic women have used or are using artificial contraception.  In other words, the administration is saying that Catholic women are more in sync with President Obama and HHS Secretary Sebelius than with their bishops.  How can the bishops then speak on their behalf?  The bishops counter that even if all lay Catholics dissented, they would still be obliged to uphold Christian faith and morals.  The Affordable Care Act will deliver contraceptive services, including those prescribed by a medical provider, “without charging cost sharing, like a co-pay, co-insurance, or a deductible.”  Organizations like Planned Parenthood must view this as the ultimate anti-Christmas; instead of a special birth, they will celebrate the avoidance of birth with a fortune in free-bees.  Of course, nothing is really free.  Someone always pays.  Already the agenda of the HHS on behalf of so-called reproductive or preventative services, as well as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered health issues, is costing the American tax-payer billions of dollars. The 2013 HHS budget is $80.1 billion!

The HHS has not budged an inch.  It is dedicated to the promulgation of free contraceptive services without cost-sharing while posturing that concessions have been made to non-profit religious organizations.  But saying it does not make entirely it so.  Even if it were completely true and reserved to non-profits, it would demand that those who operate for-profit religious operations must forfeit their religious liberty and rights of conscience.  That is a dangerous and despicable double or even triple-standard.  Churches are fully exempt, other non-profit religious organizations have an accommodation and for-profit companies (even religious ones) have no protection at all.  The Church should speak out for her rights and for those of others, both organizations and individuals.  Concessions from tyrants when others suffer, as we have seen in Latin and Central America, can taint the witness of the Church and make us bedfellows with the oppressor.

In any case, reserving ourselves to religious non-profits, we are told that churches that object to contraceptive coverage on religious grounds would “not have to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage for their employees or students.”  This sounds good. Similarly, we are told that the definition of a religious employer no longer insists upon the following details:  (1) Have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) Primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets; and (3) Primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets.  This seems to answer many of the concerns of Cardinal Dolan and Wuerl.  But wait a minute, then are the contraceptive services still available and who pays?  Is this administration really going to sit back and allow a large number of Church employees to go without contraceptive coverage?  I suspect that soon after the mandate takes effect, select people who work for the Church in various capacities will come forward in a staged manner to demand the “same rights” that are given other Americans.  The convoluted and unclear language will be exploited and the Church will be further painted as anti-woman and anti-choice.

When speaking about non-exempt non-profit religious organizations, we are told:  “Under an accommodation, an eligible organization does not have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for contraceptive coverage.  At the same time, separate payments for contraceptive services are available for women in the health plan of the organization, at no cost to the women or to the organization.”  Who makes these separate payments?  Is it the insurance carrier itself?  These self-certified groups must notify the health insurance issuer and these plans “must then provide separate payments for contraceptive services for the women in the health plan of the organization, at no cost to the women or to the organization. As explained in the final rules, issuers will find that providing such payments is cost-neutral.”  Cost neutral, are they serious?  If such were really the case then we could have all insurance carriers supply contraceptives with no business, government and employee co-pay.  But it is not true.  Insurance companies are already starting to complain.  In any case, some religious non-profits are self-insured.  This issue remains unsettled.  What insurance carrier is going to come forward and just take upon itself the financial burden of contraceptives without other more traditional coverage and money from health plans?  It makes absolutely no business sense!

Money from the religious employer and payments from the employees fund the various health insurance plans.  It goes into a single pot.  There is a string of probable culpability:  money is passed from the Church employer (matched by the employee) to the insurance carrier to the supplier of the offensive services.  I suspect that churchmen are arguing about the question of remote culpability.  However, this still seems very immediate to me.  Even if the funds come only from the employee’s matching contribution— that money originated with the salary/benefits of the employer.  Does government expect insurance carriers to come forward and to offer such services without payment or contract selection from the non-profit religious organization?  I doubt that will happen.  Compliance is literally getting someone else to do the dirty work for us.  Cardinal Dolan sees the problem when he states that the revision “seems intended to strengthen the claim that objectionable items will not ultimately be paid for by the employer’s premium dollars,” and yet 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.”  If there is only one plan, then nothing has changed:  the religious employer will be funding abortion inducing drugs and contraception.  Groups that think this is acceptable are guilty of muddled thinking.  Segregating the funds in the books is merely an accounting trick.  The moral problem remains.

Self-insured operations will have a “third party administrator” to “provide or arrange separate payments for contraceptive services for the women in the health plan of the organization, at no cost to the women or to the organization. The costs of such payments can be offset by adjustments in Federally-facilitated Exchange user fees paid by a health insurance issuer with which the third party administration has an arrangement.”  Okay, we are back to the days of “voodoo economics.”   It is argued that no reimbursement is necessary because the decreased pregnancy and birthing expenses will offset the benefits from contraception.  Contraceptives may be cheap and yet when that gal from Georgetown paraded her fake $300 plus dollars a month bill for contraception, the administration was cheerleading how expensive it was!  They want it both ways and I doubt “for-profit” insurance companies are going to give away anything for free.  The money will be moved around, but someone else is going to pay for it.  It might be called “administrative fees” or some other euphemism, but it will still be money trading hands for immoral services.  Back in 2012, a national survey of pharmacists found that most thought this idea was ridiculous and would not work.  The government is going to take fees (a tax) from the insurance issuer which it will return to pay for the contraception, abortifacients and sterilization.  They are going to pay them with their own money!  Congratulations to the Obama administration, it has invented the perpetual motion machine!  But wait a minute, it never worked before, why will it work now?  Making payments to one insurance carrier and pretending that magical money will come down from another to pay for the objectionable coverage is ridiculous.  It is utterly detached from reality.

Further, who pays the third party administrator who acquires outside coverage?  Does that not make him or her part of the religious operation?  Is this person not operating for the religious entity or in the Church’s name?    The problem of self-insured entities is not cleanly resolved by the change in the mandate.  If the insurance agent pays out, even if selected by a third party, is the religious employer still guilty of enabling immoral services?

While not necessarily under the direct supervision of a bishop or religious order, the non-exempt non-profit organizations are an integral element of the Church.  The formal dedication of a “third party” administrator to handle the claims for contraception is still a bad solution. It is like someone hiring a hit man and saying, “Take care of the problem but spare me the details.  If you are caught, I will deny even knowing you.”  We would be hiring someone to sin on our behalf, to maintain clean consciences.

The Church cannot preach and teach one message from the pulpit and in our schools and then do the opposite on such an important matter.  Such hypocrisy would bring down any such house of cards.  I suspect that some in the government administration precisely want this to come about.  They have tried one tactic and now here is another.  Throughout there has been one common thread:  the redefinition of the Church.  The administration wants to redefine the Church as something akin to HHS itself.  It wants to compromise our voice and moral witness, converting us to the cause of a secular humanistic modernity.  Already, the administration is counting on the fact that most Catholics currently regard the Church as outdated and out-of-touch.  This is a test after many years of moral and political passivity.

Speaking about the multiple standards of full exemption, an accommodation and no protection at all, Cardinal Dolan said that the bishops “are concerned as pastors with the freedom of the Church as a whole – not just for the full range of its institutional forms, but also for the faithful in their daily lives – to carry out the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.”  We are still dealing with the very definition of what constitutes the Church.  The Church is not merely a house of worship or our hospitals, schools and affiliated charities.  Most of the Church consists of the laity.  They are the main ones who seek to evangelize and live out their Christian discipleship in the world.  The Pharisees in Christ’s time took for granted that they could satisfy the demands of the Law while the average believer because of the demands of the state and his need for bread could not.  Bishops and priests would share the same posture if they preached something that they knew that the government would not allow our Catholic “business” men and women to live out.  The laity are also part of the Church, and the largest part at that.

The administration will not allow employees to opt-out of the program.  The CHA does not seem to understand this fact.  Maybe they do not want to admit it?  However, even if such were permitted, it bypasses an important objection, that such a “reproductive choice” is offensive in itself and we do not want it covered for any employee, the spouse or teenaged children.  You can say that you “opt-out” but can change your mind at any time.  There is one plan and it still includes the offensive services.  This opens up several frightful possibilities.  Even if the employee is a faithful Catholic, his or her family covered by the family plan remains eligible for the immoral services.  With or without parental consent, the employee’s daughters could get free abortion pills or get sterilized under the new plan.  I suspect schools will now be able to pass the condom costs, with the addition of birth control pills, to the insurance providers of parents or guardians.

Everything about this provision in the mandate speaks to our hedonistic culture of death.  If we really cared about women and families, the emphasis would be upon prenatal care and helping parents with the rising costs of child delivery and health.  But it is deemed cheaper to kill children in the womb.  Ours is a world that worships the barren womb and medicates against the child as if the baby were a disease.  The administration would have people mutilate themselves and take poison to murder the unborn.  Instead of rewarding sacrifice and genuine responsibility, we enable selfishness and moral degeneracy.

There has been much talk about the rights and choices of women under the HHS Mandate.  Less discussed is the fact that it covers men as well.  Male contraceptives are not as readily available, given trust issues, but the word is that more are coming.  Further, there is the issue of men having vasectomies.  This whole topic just gets more complicated and serious with scrutiny.

The only really good solution would be for the Obama administration to scrap the provision for what they call “preventative” services.  If people wanted they could shop around and get coverage in private plans; I suppose the government could subsidize these.  Unfortunately, that would mean that tax dollars would continue to be used for offensive services.  As soon as morality clauses in religious-based contracts were enforced with firings over revealed abortifacient use or involvement in condom campaigns, I am sure we would be back in the courts.  While we do not and cannot police the lives of people who work for us; nevertheless, they parade their sins on Facebook.  Returning to the matter at hand, real exemption means that the bishops and Church organizations should have no involvement whatsoever with insurance bookkeeping gimmicks or third party administrators.  But the government has a decadent culture on its side and will not bend. Strangely, even some religious people who disagree with the Church on contraception also feel that this is an important religious liberty battle.  I have heard the elderly complain that there is not enough money for their life-saving prescriptions; they wonder, how then can the government find money to give compromised women free birth control pills!  They cannot believe it.  Admittedly, it is quite bizarre.  The administration does not even want co-pay with the delivered contraceptives and abortifacients, something one must still do for blood pressure and heart medicine.  This illustrates the moral sickness and sex-on-the-brain attitude of the HHS and this administration.