The Obama administration is trying to convince us it has softened its contraceptive mandate, partly in an effort to calm opposition from the religious community. But the threat to religious liberty is as virulent as ever.
The administration has not budged on its plan to require that female workers and college students have free access to “reproductive services,” including sterilization procedures, contraceptives, and abortion-inducing drugs.
And religious organizations still will pay, albeit indirectly, for the services the government is mandating. Further, thousands of private companies will be forced to pay directly for practices they abhor, in clear violation of their religious liberty.
This is not an acceptable “accommodation,” as the administration argues.
Under the rule proposed on Friday, most religiously-affiliated organizations can apply to be exempt from the ObamaCare mandate.
Initially, the administration proposed exempting only churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship.
But after 44 lawsuits were filed across the country by and on behalf of nonexempt hospitals, colleges, charitable organizations and others, the administration relaxed the definition in its new proposal.
These religiously-affiliated organizations also will be able to qualify for exemption.
This is a camouflage. Instead of requiring these exempt employers to pay directly, the government will now require that women receive contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies. These individual policies would guarantee access to all government-approved forms of birth control, pregnancy screenings, and other “preventive” reproductive health services, at no cost to them.
The government plans to make the insurance companies pay for the benefit, receiving no premiums or co-payments from patients.
Here is how the administration proposes these fictional economics would work:
“(T)he health insurance issuer … would automatically provide separate, individual market contraceptive coverage at no cost for plan participants,” according to the HHS announcement. “Issuers generally would find that providing such contraceptive coverage is cost neutral because they would be insuring the same set of individuals under both policies and would experience lower costs from improvements in women’s health and fewer childbirths.”
In other words, the government says the insurers will be able to provide the free coverage because it will be offset by other care that isn’t delivered, including pregnancy and delivery costs. The government proposes a small offset in reducing the fee that an insurance company will have to pay for participating in the new ObamaCare Health Insurance Exchanges under the health law.
But the cost of sterilization surgery can be $8,000 or more.
Proponents of the mandate argued that birth control pills can cost several thousand dollars a year (even though a one-month prescription can be filled for $9 at Walmart).
Since patients cannot be charged one penny for this “preventative care” benefit, it will be almost impossible for the health insurers not to pass these costs along to customers in the form of higher overall premiums.
Ultimately, religious institutions would still pay because most of the cost will be buried in the premiums that churches, religious charities and schools pay to provide health insurance to their employees and students.
And even organizations that are exempt from the mandate are required to refer their employees to other entities for services which they find objectionable.
And the new policy does nothing to help for-profit companies that have strong religious and moral objections to the mandate.
The government believes that the religious views of the owners of a private business are not relevant and therefore they do not have a right to get an exemption from the law.
Lawsuits from companies, such as Hobby Lobby, which have been very vocal in their opposition, will continue.
Lyle Denniston of SCOTUS blog writes that, “It now appears likely that the controversy will reach the Supreme Court in one or more cases taken there by profit-making business owners who object to the mandate. None of those cases is likely to reach the court for action during the current term, thus putting over the issue until the term that starts next October.”
More than 2,500 religious leaders sent letters to President Obama last year objecting to the HHS mandate, asking the administration “to protect the conscience rights of all people who have moral or religious objections to covering contraceptives and sterilization procedures.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not yet released an opinion, posting a statement the day the rule was issued that they are studying it.
Clearly, the only solution is for the administration to withdraw the mandate, allowing companies and individuals to make their own decisions about whether or not they want this coverage, free from government violation of their First Amendment rights.
Published in Investor’s Business Daily, February 11, 2013.