The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Feb. 7 issued its official response to the White House's latest compromise regarding the so-called contraception mandate under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The organization said that the compromise ?shows some movement by the Administration but falls short of addressing U.S. bishops? concerns.?
For those who have followed the ups and downs of this issue since early 2012 when the White House announced that it would require most health plans to cover contraception for women free of charge, last week's Department of Health and Human Services announcement marked yet another compromise by the Obama administration to accommodate religious institutions. That includes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which fashions the ethical directives by which Catholic hospitals abide. Led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the USCCB has continually denounced the contraception mandate as an attack on First Amendment rights.
Seen in that light, the bishops? acknowledgment of ?some movement by the Administration? shows progress, right? Sort of.
Of course, the bishops? response is disappointing to those eager for a full-on resolution of the issue, considering that the details of the DHHS's compromise include pretty much all Catholic ministries in its definitions of either ?religious employers? that can opt out of providing any contraception coverage whatsoever for employees, or ?nonprofit religious organizations? (NROs) that can opt out of directly providing contraception coverage.
Modeled after the Internal Revenue Code, the definition of NROs comes down to two measures not previously listed: 1. The employer must be organized and operated as a nonprofit, obviously, and; 2. it must ?self-certify? as an organization with religion as the core aspect of its mission.
NROs would be required to provide self-certification documents to their group health plans, which in turn would provide separate individual market contraception coverage free of charge. Those NROs that self-insure would be required to instruct their third-party administrators to provide coverage of contraception through separate, individual plans. (The DHHS made note of the added bonus that providing separate coverage for contraception would mean to health plans, since they would likely see significant savings from the improvements in women's health and reduction in childbirths.)
Dolan, however, said that it is still unclear as to how, if at all, these NROs would be involved in funding these separate contraception coverage plans. Would nonprofit religious organizations still have to pay for the coverage, despite moral objections? Dolan also questioned the role NROs would play within these arrangements: Would the human resources department at, say, Catholic University have to include a brochure offering contraception coverage in every new employee packet?
Again, seen in that light, all the DHHS really has to do now is clarify the role that NROs play, maybe foot the bill for contraception coverage for nonreligious employees of religious groups? Make it a part of Medicare, call it ?Mary Magdalene Part D? and we?re done, right?
Well, there's still the small matter of 48 (and counting) federal lawsuits challenging the ACA's contraception mandate. Judges have granted nine companies temporary relief from the rule as they pursue their claims in court. (One of these companies, Christian-owned for-profit Hobby Lobby, Inc., would otherwise be looking at $1.3 million in fines per day since Jan. 1, 2013 for not complying with the ACA.)
Aside from the compromise aspect, the DHHS's latest definitions of ?religious employers? and ?nonprofit religious organizations? are also meant to provide the judges presiding over these cases with additional clarity. With the USCCB's rejection, it looks like the judges are going to need it.