State should reverse insurance mandate

By | September 3, 2009

The conscience clause would allow health care providers who oppose abortion or contraceptives on moral grounds to decline providing them. “I can assure all of your readers that when this review is complete, there will be a robust conscience clause in place,” he told reporters.

While a conscience clause on the federal level seems to have support from the president, another type of conscience clause – one that allows church agencies to exempt prescriptions for artificial birth control in their health insurance plans – has been rejected by the State of Wisconsin.

As a result of Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget provision, a new state law mandating contraceptive coverage will go into effect in January 2010. The provision requires health insurance providers to include contraceptive services as a mandated benefit. It does not include exemptions based on religious beliefs.

On Aug. 17, the bishops of Wisconsin issued a statement criticizing the provision in the new state budget. Three of the five Catholic dioceses in Wisconsin, including Green Bay, would be required to provide artificial birth control as part of their insurance coverage to employees. Catholic Church teaching opposes artificial birth control and calls the practice immoral.

“As Catholic teachers and pastors, we strongly object to this blatant insensitivity to our moral values and legal rights,” the bishops note in their statement.

The Green Bay Diocese provides medical insurance from Arise Health Plan to more than 550 employees covering close to 900 lives. The Milwaukee Archdiocese and Madison Diocese also offer insurance plans for their employees that are subject to the contraceptive requirement. Only the La Crosse and Superior dioceses, both which offer their own insurance coverage, are exempt from the requirement.

In 27 states that offer prescription drug coverage, insurers are required to provide FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices in their plans. Twenty states allow certain employers and insurers to refuse compliance. Of these 20 states, 15 permit religious employers to refuse contraceptive coverage. One state allows any employer, religious or secular, to refuse the coverage.

A movement towards requiring such coverage seems to be part of a national goal of decreasing unintended pregnancies by 20 percent by 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures Web site.

Opponents of the church’s stand on denying artificial contraception in medical insurance coverage say the church is discriminatory against women and denies proper health care. That isn’t the case. Affordable health care has long been an important issue for the church. Even during the current health care reform debates, U.S. bishops have been vocal about the need for universal, affordable health care that does not compromise religious principles.

If President Obama supports a conscience clause for health care workers who oppose dispensing artificial contraceptives, then why does the State of Wisconsin not want to honor such an exemption for church agencies in their health care plans?

In their statement, the bishops of Wisconsin say they are assessing their options to contest the policy. A lobbying effort to reverse the policy may be one option. Another may be for the affected three dioceses to begin plans for self insurance; perhaps even a statewide plan for all five dioceses.

Responding to the health insurance mandate, Dr. Helen Scieszka, director of married and family life for the diocese, noted that this is an opportunity for the church to share its teaching regarding contraception, including the benefits of natural family planning.

Whatever the outcome of the health insurance mandate, perhaps the state’s bishops would want to include free natural family planning training to eligible church employees as part of health care packages.

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