Since care at Catholic-sponsored facilities is governed by the Ethical and Religious Directives issued by the bishops' conference, the report recommends a series of measures to protect the public and inform patients about these care restrictions. Among these is strong government oversight of proposed mergers to address any potential loss of reproductive healthcare and other services. In addition, because Catholic facilities don't necessarily inform patients about treatment options that are not consistent with Catholic doctrine, the report recommends enforcing federal law to ensure that patients receive full information about their treatment options.
The CHA said it was still reading through the report and declined to comment at deadline. CHA member hospitals at times have struggled with balancing compliance with the bishops' religious directives and meeting the healthcare needs and desires of their diverse patient populations.
There were 381 Catholic hospitals in the U.S. in 2011, a 16.1% increase since 2001, the report found. Moreover, as the total number of hospitals has shrunk, Catholic facilities made up 10.1% of all U.S. hospitals, compared with 8.2% a decade earlier. In some states, the report said, one-quarter or more of all hospitals are Catholic-sponsored or affiliated, and some geographic areas have no non-Catholic alternatives.
The report found that Catholic institutions were no more likely to provide charity care than other hospitals. The level of charity care at Catholic hospitals was about 2.8% of revenue compared with 2.9% for hospitals overall. At the same time, the report said, Catholic facilities restrict access to women's health services, including contraception, abortion, sterilization, prenatal diagnosis and infertility treatments.
Other critics have said Catholic facilities sometimes refuse to honor patients' end-of-life wishes, including referring them for information about physician-assisted suicide in states where that is a legal option.
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