Last week’s Supreme Court oral arguments about the Affordable Care Act focused heavily on legal language and hypothetical scenarios. But it’s immensely important to realize that the law is already working for millions of Americans, real people with real stories about how the law has addressed problems in our current healthcare system that were putting their health and financial futures at risk.
The Catholic Health Association has created a series of videos highlighting a few of these stories to help send the message that health reform works. Here’s one about a 7-year old cancer survivor named Ava who no longer has to worry that she will be un-insurable due to her pre-existing condition as she grows up:
In what seems to be a reaction to the debate about contraception and religious freedom of the last few months, Xavier University announced its insurance plans for university employees will no longer cover birth control, except for “non-contraceptive reasons.”
This notable exception appears to be an acknowledgement that the same drug can be used for different reasons and that this context determines the moral acceptability of its use. All an employee has to do is prove to the University that she’s using it for the allowed reasons and she’ll be approved. As to what happens if they don’t believe her? Ask Sandra Fluke’s friend.
The problem with this exception is that there’s no justifiable explanation for why it should only apply to birth control. There are a whole host of medical drugs and services which have different moral designations for various faith traditions depending on their use. Viagra doubles as a pulmonary disease treatment, anti-depressants can treat depression or just a low sex drive, and many drugs can be abused for recreational purposes.
Are Xavier employees who are prescribed these medications subject to school interrogation and approval? Are Catholic universities being accused of moral scandal for not doing so? Of course not. It’s almost inconceivable to imagine anyone holding an employer morally culpable for an employee’s misuse of a medical service, even more so when detecting that misuse requires determining the employee’s intentions.
Adopting a moral standard to prevent such a case would require instituting an enormously complex, legally questionable and distasteful verification and approval system, one that would require employers to become medical experts and lie detectors. Faced with the choice, employers (including religious employers) have understandably settled on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise that keeps the moral calculus in the hands of the individual.
Some religious workplaces even add an extra level of buffer, either requiring via contract or simply making clear that employees are expected to follow church teaching in their personal lives. What employees do after that point is on their individual consciences.
This standard essentially treats health care benefits the same way workplaces treat other forms of compensation such as salary and wages. A person who does something objectionable with their salary doesn’t make their employer complicit in their choice. Why should their health care purchases be any different?
Bishops and other religious objectors already have a way to protect their own institutional consciences from moral culpability regarding contraception. That they aren’t doing so makes it hard to buy their assertions that the HHS ruling on contraception coverage is an unbearable regulation that will force them to shut down. And that their objection only selectively applies to the issue of birth control does little to support their claim that their opposition to is simply about religious freedom and has nothing to do with contraception.
Keynoting last Friday’s ”Stand up for Religious Freedom” rally in Washington, DC (organized by a coalition of mostly anti-abortion groups), Christian conservative commentator Star Parker earned her biggest applause by drawing the following comparison:
No more than should my auto insurance cover your tune-up should my health insurance cover your sex life
While Parker’s audience seems to find this analogy hilarious, I don’t quite get its appeal. Assuming that Parker doesn’t have a particular moral objection to tune-ups, it just doesn’t make any sense.
My best guess is that Parker is simply appealing to the broader Randian sentiment all the rage on the right these days that individuals should be obligated to no one but themselves; that they specifically shouldn’t have to pay for anything for anyone else.
But, of course, paying for things for other people is the entire concept of insurance. Sure, it may feel personalized (I buy a policy from a company, pay my premiums, and when I need coverage they write a check for me), but in practice it’s really a miniature form of – gasp — “socialism,” redistributing wealth from the healthy to the sick, the good drivers to the bad, the lucky to the unlucky.
Some may not like knowing that their premiums “subsidize” the risky or objectionable decisions of their fellow policyholders, but that’s why they don’t really get a say. Once they write their premium check it’s not really their money anymore; they’re better off viewing it as just the regular fee they pay to ensure financial security if something bad happens to them.
If Parker and others really believe what’s she saying, their problems are much larger than the marginal issue of contraception coverage and religious employers. They should probably just stop buying insurance altogether.
Yesterday, witnesses from all parts of the faith community came together in front of the Supreme Court for a “prayerful witness” in support of the Affordable Care Act. Several clergy members from various denominations spoke out on the importance of the law from a faith perspective.
Sponsored by Faithful Reform in Health Care and the Washington Interreligious Staff Community (WISC) Health Care Work Group, more than a hundred supporters gathered together in prayer and to share inspiring stories as a result of the law, vastly outnumbering the small handful of individuals protesting against the law.
A New York Times story about the advocacy groundswell around the Supreme Court’s review of the Affordable Care Act notes that “Catholic and anti-abortion groups” oppose the health care law because of concerns about federal abortion funding. This is a sweeping generalization that misses the mark.
While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed the Affordable Care Act, the Catholic Health Association –representing over 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care facilities– publicly supported the law and was instrumental in securing its passage. So did a national network of Catholic nuns representing thousands of women religious across the country. Over 20 prominent Catholic sisters even filed an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in this case supporting the law.
In fact, many Catholic social justice leaders backed this historic law precisely because they believe access to quality, affordable health care is a pro-life issue bearing on human dignity. The Catholic Health Association and independent analysts came to the conclusion that the Affordable Care Act does not provide federal funding for abortion. President Obama signed an executive order to provide additional assurances that existing limits on abortion funding remained in place under the law. None of this is mentioned in the article.
These omissions do a disservice to readers and perpetuate a false narrative that Christian conservatives who parrot GOP talking points have an exclusive claim on our public debates over values and public policy.