Our future under the health care law

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Implementation means more Washington mandates

By Geoff Davis

When the health care law was passed, the Democrats cleverly front-loaded some of the goodies, but left the most troubling mandates and requirements to be implemented at a later date.  When the Obama administration recently released its contraception mandate, we all got a glimpse of what is coming from Washington as the health care law is implemented.

The contraception regulation requires that all group insurance plans cover all FDA-approved contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization with no co-pay required by the individual. This mandate violates the First Amendment and is an affront to the federal protections that preserve the right of faith-based groups and individuals not to be forced to contradict their moral and religious beliefs, often known as “conscience protections.”

The contraception mandate includes a religious exemption, but it is so narrow that most religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals and charities would not qualify.  The primary criteria for the exemption are that it 1) must have “inculcation of religious values as its purpose,” and 2) must be an organization that “primarily employs” and “primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.” 

An example of how this definition is unworkable is a Catholic charity or hospital that serves the community regardless of the individual’s religious affiliation.  They would not qualify for a religious institution exemption under the mandate. 

In the days following the administration’s announcement, outrage came from a wide-range of groups and individuals arguing that this mandate is a violation of our right to free exercise of religion in the First Amendment. 

According to Washington, D.C., Archbishop Donald Wuerl, the only options for a Catholic school would be to “1) violate its beliefs by providing coverage for medications and procedures we believe are immoral, 2) cease providing insurance coverage for all of its employees and face ongoing and ultimately ruinous fines, or 3) attempt to qualify for the exemption by hiring and serving only Catholics.” 

Any of these options are a sad consequence of a top-down government-controlled health care system that ignores religious freedom.

The backlash has been bipartisan as well. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called the contraception mandate “un-American” and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said it would “force Catholic institutions to violate their religious beliefs.”  Even liberal commentators like E.J. Dionne and Mark Shields criticized the administration’s actions.

I signed a letter with more than 150 of my House colleagues to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking her to delay the rule and rework the religious exemption.

After two weeks of outrage over this mandate, President Obama on Feb. 10 attempted to quell it by announcing a “compromise.”  Religious organizations would not have to pay for contraception services for its employees; instead they would have to offer it, but the insurance company would have to pay for it. 

While the administration is shifting who would pay for it, they are still mandating a violation of religious liberty and conscience protections for religious institutions by requiring them to facilitate access to these products. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement that the compromise “continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions.”  In a letter to fellow bishops, USCCB President Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan reiterated the concern that “the government is creating its own definitions of who is ‘religious enough’ for full protection.”

This mandate is one of the first proscribed by Nancy Pelosi’s health care law, but it is not the last.  The House of Representatives will continue working to repeal the health care law as a whole, as well as individual provisions like this one as the Administration attempts to continue to implement this disastrous law.

U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis