Tuesday, May 29, 2012

HHS Mandate Silence and Misinformation

 You would think that the fact that over forty Catholic organizations are suing the federal government might actually make the nightly news.  Yet if you've been waiting for this sudden influx of media coverage you've probably noticed that the only sound you've heard on the major three networks is crickets chirping.  Fox News pointed out in the wake of the lawsuits, that the major networks had devoted a grand total of 19 seconds to the issue, and so for the most part the only sound any of us have heard, if we haven't gone out seeking information on this topic, is silence.

And maybe that explains why so many people are so desperately ignorant when it comes to the topic.  The comments on Patheos' Facebook page set forth perfect examples of the "arguments" that people are setting forth, with Catholics being slammed with insightful comments like:
"Are you kidding me? What a joke. The government gives ALL citizens freedom, not Catholics the freedom to override that right. Dumb article. Dumb lawsuit."
"So can I file a lawsuit against the government because they are using my tax dollars to pay for a war? What about paying for corporate welfare? War and usery is against my religion...."
"Cammie, no one is forcing these Catholic companies and organizations to buy anything. The ACA simply states (among numerous other things, like children can't be rejected medical treatment because of a pre-existing condition) that if they offer medical insurance, they have to offer *comprehensive* health care insurance, which includes birth control. And the people that choose to buy BC are the ones paying for it still. No one is paying for anyone's sex life except the person having sex. They pay out their own Premiums, their deductibles, their prescription costs.  
I find it ironic that you feel that it's forcing someone's sex life costs onto others (which it's not) when Catholics attaching this measure are forcing their religion's interpretations onto all others and trying to mandate their beliefs into law. 
If you don't like it, don't do it. Simple as that. No one is forcing you or any other person to use birth control."
 Oh where to begin?  I guess the first comment is as good a place as any.

When did freedom mean the freedom to have our sex lives subsidized by other people?  When did freedom mean that we could take whatever we wanted from other people without having to pay for it?  And would someone please tell me when contraception became a constitutionally guaranteed right in this country and that by saying "no, we're not going to pay for your recreational sex lives!" Catholics were somehow violating the law and "overriding that right."

Moving on...

The second comment seems to imply that the commenter believes that Catholic institutions are fighting against paying a tax.  While I absolutely do believe that we should dispute the right of a government to pay for the slaughter of the unborn (or to allow that slaughter at all), that's not the issue in this case.  This isn't a tax.  The HHS mandate is the federal government forcing private entities to pay for contraception and abortive services.  That's a clear violation of our religious freedom, and another example of how the current administration is trying to take away our choice of what we can and can't purchase with our own hard earned dollars.

Then there's that last, third comment, directed at me.  The woman seems a tiny bit confused over what we're talking about.  Maybe she didn't read the article and put all her energy into responding to me.

Rather than going to usual route of: "Some women need those drugs for other reasons!  And you're taking them away!" she decides to claim that Catholics are fighting against children being given medical coverage for pre-existing conditions by fighting "comprehensive coverage" that she seems to think just happens to include contraception.  Now I should begin by saying that both arguments are completely false.  Drugs like estrogen would still be covered for medical reasons.  Because reasons do matter hugely in these cases when we determine what is and isn't moral.

For example I took misoprostol last year.  It's a nasty little drug when taken for any reason.  It is used to induce early abortions.  It's also used to treat ulcers or, as in my case, in a last ditch attempt to help get rid of the "debris" that remained three months after my miscarriage.  Two of these three scenarios would be covered right now.  One wouldn't.  Can you guess which on it is?  I'm sure you can.  Because anyone who can read this post can likely figure out which of these three uses would be considered moral by any Catholic who actually believes in what the Church teaches.

The second part of the argument, that what we're fighting against is children being covered for pre-existing conditions, is patently false.  Anyone who wants to know what we're actually fighting against can read the whole lovely text here.  It's not long.

Besides to hear the third commenter talk about premiums and deductibles you'd think that employers don't ever pay for a cent for insurance coverage, and that it's just these poor women paying for it themselves.  If that was the case, this wouldn't be an issue would it?  Because Church institutions not paying for these services wouldn't matter because, based on the claim, they're already not paying for them.

Her claim goes on to say that we're trying to "mandate our beliefs into law."  So not paying for someone else's contraceptives is somehow changing the law?  No.  This mandate changed the law.  And it changed the law to violate our constitutional right to freely practice our religion.

Yes the misinformation out there is pretty insane.  And I have a feeling in the next months we'll be given ample opportunity to try to clear up the misconceptions... if anyone is actually listening.


  1. The level of deliberate misinformation, utter ignorance, and bald-faced anti-Catholicism that this issue has engendered is truly chilling.

    The fact that many Catholic dioceses, organizations, and colleges actually self-insure is lost on these people; that complicates the "compromise" considerably.

    As the Supreme Court might toss the whole thing, we may not have to deal with it. We can only pray.

  2. I can understand some of the ignorance here. I doubt the majority have even a basic understanding of how health insurance works.

  3. What do you think about this?

  4. One ignorant comment I heard was something like, "Keep your Church out of my bedroom." The response I would love to give (not original, I heard it somewhere, I'm just waiting to use it! :) is, "That's exactly what I'm doing. Pay for your own birth control, don't expect me - or my Church - to."

  5. This isn't about churches, or even church support staff (who, by the way, do a lot more work than most of us realize).

    This is about those colleges and universities, primarily. I believe you know the ones... the ones we so love to deride as being Catholic in name only.

    Who, by the way, seem to have no problems with the HHS mandate.

    The problem isn't that the left media can't handle the idea of the church being against something. The problem is that, if you're standing anywhere left of orthodoxy, it doesn't look like the Church actually has much of a problem with it.

    Why not get a papal statement, or one from the magisterium?

  6. Addendum to the previous: MSNBC's Maddow HAS covered this. The segment was about ten minutes long and it came within a week of the passage of the mandate.

  7. First off Zach, I said major three networks, which would be NBC, CBS, ABC. Not a channel way up there in the numbers like MSNBC, which although owned by NBC, is not one of the major networks (you wouldn't just get it for free with rabbit ears here in the states).

    Secondly, I never said this was about Churches themselves, as that's been clear the entire time and hasn't come into question (and since I worked in our Church office until we moved, I do realize what goes into running a parish).

    And, yes, we do frequently rant about CINOs. The thing is there are also plenty of genuinely Catholic institutions in this country that would be hurt by this. I live at one of them. I could name a half dozen other major institutions in under ten seconds.

    The fact that some people are "standing to the left of orthodoxy" doesn't mean that the government can punish those who actually practice their faith.

    And the left leaning media outlets could just as easily go to those institutions that are filing suit and interview them. I guarantee they'd find some orthodoxy there. Fox News interviewed the President of Ave Maria University. I'm sure the Presidents of Steubenville and Christendom and all the other genuinely Catholic Colleges across the country would be glad the share their thoughts. I bet they would find quite a few people at EWTN who'd articulate why we're filing the lawsuit beautifully. Instead they decided to ignore the issue (and the big three networks undeniably have).

    Or they push it up to their ultra liberal network where anyone whose watching will surely be outraged by anything the Church does and will likely be happy to swallow whatever BS their selling... I used to watch MSNC a lot too... It could easily confirmed my view of reality and it panders to its audience.

  8. I think it's fair to say that MSNBC and FOX are about the same in terms of pandering, but that's beside the point.

    Plenty of people are honestly against this. The problem is that politicians stand to lose more by standing against it than standing in favour. The only hope of preventing this is in the courts.

  9. I'd say they are definitely the same in terms of pandering.

    I'm not sure I agree that politicians stand to lose by opposing it. A lot of people from a lot of different groups are upset about this encroachment, and a lot of those groups don't love the Catholic Church. But they understand the importance of liberty.

    I think this is actually a huge misjudgment by Obama. As he plummets in the polls I think its safe to say that this isn't quite working out how he planned.

    But I think he expected Dolan and the USCCB to roll over and pretend to be asleep... and thankfully they didn't!

  10. Hi Cam. I made some comments on your "manosphere" posts a while back and have stopped back here on occasion to see if you'd addressed the topic again and to see how your health complications with the pregnancy went. I'm happy to see that things are going well.

    Thought I'd take a run at this issue, even though I'm not Catholic.

    While I understand the arguments behind casting this as a religious rights issue, I disagree for a number of reasons. Basically, ACA and the HHS mandate do not necessarily violate anyone's religious beliefs because the law and the regulation offer several options.

    First, Catholic-Church-Owned businesses are like any other business: in order to attract talented staff, they offer competitive compensation packages that include wages and benefits such as paid vacation and health-insurance subsidies. Unless they are complete self-insuring, they are not directly providing health insurance (and I freely admit that I am unclear on how the law and the regulation apply to self-insured entities). It's the employees who choose what insurance to purchase and what services to avail themselves of. I've heard the argument advanced that even if an employee doesn't use birth control, the Catholic employer would still be "paying for it," which I think is a stretch. I don't get Pap smears, but I don't think I'm paying for yours. I'm paying for insurance that covers the services I use.

    The point I'm trying to make here is that when an employer compensates an employee, that compensation becomes the employee's, and the employee makes the decisions on how he or she spends that compensation. In the case of insurance subsidies, it is a mere convenience that employers offer to send the money to the insurance company rather than put it in the employee's bank account.

    Which is where the allowed options come in. If the idea that sending this money directly to the insurance company violates a teaching of the Church because it might be used for an immoral purpose, how far does that extend?

    The Catholic business can choose to not provide an insurance subsidy at all, though this would put them at a competitive disadvantage in the labor market. The law allows this and because the law allows this, there is a "safety valve" for businesses whose conscience might be offended. Problem solved. Unless, or course, the argument is that providing the health insurance subsidy is also a fundamental right, religious or otherwise.

    The second option the Catholic business has is to decouple "employer provided" insurance from the employer and pay the subsidy directly to the employee. This could be a simple cash payment, folding the previous subsidy into salary/wages. Now, what insurance is purchased is entirely up to the conscience of the employee. Alternately, the Catholic business could provide the subsidy in the form of a voucher to be used in the state insurance exchanges for the private purchase of insurance.

    Since there are these options, I'm a little at a loss over what the real moral or religious rights issue is. Unless it is offensive to religious rights that the mandate requires that health insurance providers offer birth control as a standard item at all. If that's true, then it may be a slightly different religious rights issue.

  11. Hi Lost Sailor-

    One of the major issues is that many Catholic institutions are completely self insuring, or use Catholic insurers that don't offer that sort of coverage.

    And there is a subtle difference between paying more because there's coverage for things that you don't need (i.e. a pap smear), and paying more for things you believe are objectively evil (like abortion).

    The major problem with the other options you mention is that they could severely harm employees, based on working for a Catholic employer and would harm Catholic institutions in the same vein.

    One huge problem I see with subsidy option that you mention is that are health system is so broken at that quite a few people would be in the position I'd be in if given money to buy my own insurance. I ruptured disks playing rugby in college. My insurance at the time denied the surgery I needed as "experimental" and then refused to insure me because my back was "uncorrected." As a result no insurance company will insure me for any price, outside of employer offered insurance. Many people with preexisting conditions only have the option of being covered if it's required, as with employer coverage.

    The "Catholic businesses don't have to provide coverage at all" side of the issue is most definitely a violation of religious freedom. It's basically saying: We know you believe that this is morally wrong, but you don't have to do it. You could just leave your employees without health care, which your Church teaches is a pretty basic right.

    Violate your conscience or harm your employees. I just don't understand how the logic, "you won't offer this one particular, tiny facet of additional care, so you can't offer any insurance at all" works. What exactly gives the government the right to make that sort of mandate?

    In the same vein you could tell Catholic hospitals: Well you don't have to perform abortions. You could just shut down.

    You could tell Catholic orphanages: You don't have to let same sex couples adopt. You could shut your doors and cease to exist instead.

    We could take it a step further: Sure you could be Catholic in Nazi Germany... it might get you tossed in a camp or killed... but you could do it...

    You see the government isn't supposed to use the free exercise of our religion to harm us. And that's exactly what this mandate would do.

    Have you given any thought to why this is being proposed as a right? Especially when it's cheap and easily accessible for free (I worked at Planned Parenthood in college before my conversion and we handed that stuff out for free in huge amounts every. single. day).

    From a legal standpoint it is pretty clear that it's a violation of our religious freedom. But I think that the administration knew that from the beginning and just misjudged how it would play out. I don't think it was ever intended to get past the courts. I think it was intended to energize female voters against conservatives before the upcoming election.

    As a Catholic we see the Church demonized pretty regularly when liberals want the public looking in another direction.

    Anyways, I thought I'd leave you with a link that summed it up better than I possibly could:

    On the mandate itself: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/lori-testimony-for-oversight-on-religious-freedom-2012-02-16.pdf

    and on the supposed "compromise":

  12. Cam:

    Thanks for the response. I gather that internet connectivity is an issue, so I appreciate it.

    I read the links you cited. The second one doesn't really address the HHS rule, instead concentrating on the rumor that HHS would adopt Hawaii's rule and discussing that. HHS adopted a variation of that rule, and did not include the parts discussed in the article.

    The first link is more to the point, but posits, understandably, arguments that I don't believe are correct. The first is that under the HHS rule Catholic businesses are force to "provide" or "give" employees contraception. This is simply false. There is no such requirement. The second flavor of the argument is that Catholic businesses are forced to "pay" for their employees contraception. Again, this is a misconception of how insurance works.

    As I noted above, money as part of an overall compensation package is usually paid to the employee in different ways: salary, retirement fund, health insurance. Once that money is earned it is paid to the employee: it says so right on my pay stub. At that point, it is no longer the employer's money, it's the employee's. It's the employee who decides what insurance to buy with that money and what services to receive. The real question is, to what extent should an employer be allowed to control how an employee uses his or her compensation once it's paid? If my Baptist employer knows in advance that I'm going to spend a portion of my salary on alcohol, dancing, and playing poker, should they be allowed to dock my pay?

    I also fail to see how the option to not directly subsidize employee insurance is a violation of religious freedom. Saying that Catholic business don't have to provide for coverage is not the same as saying they should "leave their employees without health care." It's saying that instead of paying the insurer directly for a company sponsored plan, they should pay the employees, who is then free to purchase coverage themselves. Under the ACA, even the situation you encountered would be moot, since prior conditions aren't allowed to be taken into account.

    As for being able to discriminate, well, if Catholic businesses can't provide appropriate services to all, then perhaps they shouldn't be in the business of providing those services. I'll side-step the Nazi reference since it's not really germane.

    I also discount the argument of "why do this at all, contraception is practically free everywhere anyway?" This similar to a line of argument you shoot down in your "everyone's doing it anyway" post above. Some forms of contraception are cheap or free, and some aren't. Some are rather expensive, and the choice of what to use (or to not use) should be between a woman and her doctor.

    I don't think this was a political ploy by the administration. Indeed, it may be the other way around. For many years, Catholic businesses and institutions have been offering just this kind of coverage in response to similar state mandates without protest. In 1999, Catholic Charities of Sacramento challenged a very similar mandate and lost (the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to hear the final appeal). It almost seems to me that even though other religions' institutions face the same issues, this has been framed as an "attack" on the Catholic Church.

    Anyway, I appreciate your willingness to hear me out. I don't mean to blow up your comments. Frankly, the obvious solution (and the best one in my opinion) is to get rid of "employer-provided" health insurance altogether. It's inefficient, hides the true cost of health and medical care from everyone, and gives rise to issued like this.



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