Affordable Care compromise stirs debate among Catholics


The Obama administration has proposed a compromise in response to complaints by religious organizations about the mandatory women’s preventive health care included in the Affordable Care Act. This compromise is not likely to affect the university’s current healthcare plan, but that is not set in stone, university spokesperson Mischelle Diaz said.

“This new modification to the [Health and Human Services] ruling does raise some questions, but for now it’s just unclear whether the proposal will affect health insurance here or not,” Diaz said. “The administration needs time to look at that and to meet with the health care administrators to see if there would be an effect or not.”

Last year, as part of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services required all businesses that provide employee healthcare to also provide for women’s preventive care free of charge. Preventive care includes services like birth control, pap smears, mammograms and other crucial services intended to stop or quickly recognize lethal diseases.

Catholic groups raised protest against the bill, because the use of contraceptives contradict Catholic social teaching. In an attempt to diffuse this tension, the Obama administration recently made a compromise that essentially redefines which religious groups can exempt on faith-based grounds. 

The administration added a clause that allows non-profit religious organizations to be exempt from offering coverage themselves, and rather had the insurance company foot the bill entirely. 

The health plan for St. Edward’s faculty and students does include prescription birth control coverage. However, over-the-counter methods, like the “morning-after pill” are not covered under the current insurance plan.

However, current St. Edward’s health policies on contraceptives are more fixed. 

“The reason we have a policy that covers [contraception] right now is because our health insurance plan is what’s called a ‘fully insured group’,” Diaz said. “It administers a health plan approved by the Texas Department of Insurance. The way that stands right now in Texas, customizations are not an option. You can’t customize to exclude certain things, including contraception.” 

 This applies to both employer and employee, Diaz said.

The mandate already exempted churches and other non-profit religious organizations from the beginning, but it did not include Catholic hospitals and universities in the country.

Even with the compromise, the bill is facing opposition from other Catholic interests, who feel that the compromise is a weak attempt to please both sides.

“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan said in a statement to the New York Times.

Many universities, hospitals and other for-profit religious organizations have filed suit against the government because they believe their religious liberties are being violated, since the bill penalizes non-compliant companies financially. The suits have had many different results, which could mean that the mandate will be tested in the Supreme Court, according to the Washington Times.