The Catholic Health Association's firm rejection of the Obama's administration attempt to appease concerns over its birth-control mandate left observers pondering what influence the reform ally's position could have on the policy.
The CHA offered vague praise in January after the administration offered its solution: that insurers rather than employers would pay for contraception if employers raised religious objections. Other Catholic groups quickly responded that the White House's revised policy still assaulted their religious freedoms. The CHA waited until June 15 and joined the opposition via submitted comments to HHS, writing that the rule “would be unduly cumbersome and would be unlikely to adequately meet the religious liberty concerns of all of our members and other church ministries.”
A spokesman declined to provide an interview with CHA President and CEO Sister Carol Keehan.
On Capitol Hill, both parties called the organizations' opposition a significant development, although neither side expects it to persuade the administration to change course.
Republicans hailed the CHA opposition for clearly showing that the White House's solution, drafted after consulting with Keehan, has failed. “The CHA are absolutely right in their opposition to this and rejecting that so-called compromise because there really is no compromise,” Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), a physician and a Catholic, said in an interview. He noted that Catholic hospitals that are self-insured would still end up paying for contraception.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which overseas healthcare policy, said that CHA's position was “unfortunate” but that he remains comfortable with the accommodation the administration has outlined, despite the CHA's help getting health reform passed.
Nicholas Cafardi, a professor at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, said he believes CHA's opinion matters: “CHA holds a lot of influence here because they helped the administration so much to get the Affordable Care Act passed, despite the opposition of the bishops,” he said.
Meanwhile, the bishops have launched a public awareness campaign, Fortnight for Freedom, which they say will help educate the public to affronts on religious liberty.
In May, Catholic organizations, including three Catholic health systems, filed 12 federal lawsuits challenging the policy
. Catholic Medical Association Executive Director John Brehany said one of those suits might yield an injunction that would block HHS from enforcing the rule, which is set to take effect in 2013 assuming the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't strike down the entire reform law.
—with Rich Daly