The Catholic Health Association (CHA), a trade group of Catholic hospitals that prominently backed President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare reforms, announced today that it supports the administration’s final contraceptive mandate. CHA’s position is at odds with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which still considers the religious exemption in the mandate too narrow.
The contraceptive mandate, which requires all insurance plans to cover contraceptives and abortifacients (with an exemption for churches), goes into effect for religious nonprofits on Jan. 1, 2014. The mandate already applies to businesses.
The USCCB hasn’t issued an official statement on the final revisions to the contraceptive mandate released June 28. The revisions seek to distance religious organizations from paying for contraceptives and abortifacients by requiring insurance companies to pay for the drugs. But USCCB leaders signed a July 2 letter that said the mandate “continues to breach universal principles affirmed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws.”
CHA has vacillated in its support for the contraceptive mandate. Initially, it came out in support of the rule, but then withdrew that support after studying the mandate more thoroughly. “The exemption in the final rule is narrower than any conscience clause ever enacted in federal law and reflects an unacceptable change in federal policy regarding religious beliefs,” said CHA in a 2012 letter to the administration.
Then today, CHA said in a memo to its members that the administration had resolved its primary concerns. First, the organization was glad the administration replaced its own four-part definition of a church with the IRS definition. That was significant for CHA because it now covers church ministries outside of worship services. Second, the organization said the administration had sufficiently distanced funding of contraceptives from CHA to satisfy its concerns.
“We are pleased that our members now have an accommodation that will not require them to contract, provide, pay, or refer for contraceptive coverage,” said CHA. “We also recognize that this resolution has not been what some organizations, including the Bishops’ Conference, asked for on behalf of a wider group. Our contribution to the process has been to work for the protection of religious organizations, especially our members. We recognize the broader issues will continue to be debated and litigated by others.”
Sixty lawsuits against the contraceptive mandate are now moving through the courts. Most objectors were not satisfied with the administration’s final tweaks to the mandate.