Thursday, March 1, 2012

Josh in Three Parts

 I had wanted to update all of you,  on the HHS mandate situation, and to do so I asked a trusted friend Josh to help me play catch up on the issue as life around here had gotten to be busy (I wonder why... hmm?) When I went to post about what I had learned, I realized it would be best to simply share the exchange  we had with you all and let you judge it for yourselves in order to draw your own conclusions. Josh has always challenged me to think a bit harder on issues than what initially appears and I believe that shows itself well here.   It will likely take the next 2 or 3 nights to publish the exchange due to its length - but I found it extremely helpful and hope you might also.(Needless to say Josh gave me his permission to publish)  :

 Dear Josh, 
 Hey-I’ve been super busy this past week and don’t know where we’ve landed with the HHS thing. Could you give me an update? I have heard a compromise has been reached in some news outlets and others say this isn’t so- what’s up? Hope all is well with you!
PS had a great visit with my cousin Bob, if he comes back I’d love for you to meet him- I know you’d find him really interesting.

Great to hear from you, and good question. So yes, Obama announced an "accommodation" on February 10, and this has been taken by many as a compromise that solves the problem of HHS violating religious liberty with its "contraception mandate" (i.e. requiring that employer-provided insurance include contraception, sterilization, and abortion). But no, it is not over.

 Here's why: 1. Legally nothing changed. Obama promised to revise the rule, but the rule went into effect without any revision. 2. It is not clear what Obama promised. Because all we have to go on are some general comments about how some future revised rule might work, there is no agreement about what how it would actually look in terms of the legal details. 3. Obama didn't actually negotiate. Despite decades of history of policy makers keeping open dialogue with the Church when it comes to matters like provision of health care, the White House announced a "compromise" without any discussions with bishops or others who were objecting the loudest. 4. Even on the most generous reading of his "compromise" he is still requiring that employers who purchase health plans must purchase plans that will cover contraception, sterilization, and abortion. There may be a small change in the chain of responsibility, allowing employers to feel that they are less directly providing the coverage, but the bottom line is the same. 5. Even if the accommodation did make some concessions to religious institutions (hospitals, universities), it doesn't at all address independent employers. In other words, if you are a business owner and want to provide health coverage to your employees but have a religious objection to providing contraception, sterilization, and abortion, the HHS mandate is still a violation of your conscience. 6. Part of the rationale for the proposed accommodation is that contraception is "free," meaning "no additional cost," meaning "upfront costs are compensated for by later savings." Leaving aside the question of whether we want to treat public health issues that way (sterilizing people brings down the cost of caring for their families?) that's a bit like saying that paying off your mortgage early is "free" because down the road you save interest payments.

 For all of these reasons, although most of the mainstream media coverage of the HHS mandate has faded for now, there has been a lot of discussion and reaction, and the issue will not go away. A lawsuit filed on behalf of EWTN before February 10 still stands, and three more have been filed, two by Catholic colleges and one by a Protestant college. Educators, health professionals, and others have signed a strong letter against the mandate -- Cardinal Dolan recently added his name: In general, the bishops have come out very strongly in opposition. Congress held hearings, and the media covered them very superficially (complaining that those who spoke against the mandate were all men). In response there is an excellent petition that is interesting: 
 Blessings to you and yours! 
 P.S. I do look forward to hearing about the visit from your cousin. I know you were excited to host him!

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