Barack Obama made a public effort this week to reach a compromise with religious employers on the government’s new health care plan. At issue was a requirement that all employers offer birth control to women through their insurance plans, however some religious organizations take specific moral issue with birth control.
The compromise, to me, seemed to make good sense. Basically, employers could opt out of offering birth control as part of their insurance coverage. Insurers, however, would be required to provide birth control to those employees directly at no charge. A bit of a technicality, yes, but the fact is that no matter how an organization feels about matters like birth control, they should not be able to prohibit access. On the other side of the coin, they shouldn’t be forced by the government to do something contrary to their values. So the Obama solution seemed to ameliorate the tension, even if it didn’t exactly thrill everyone.
Then I read the newspaper this morning.
Centura Health is a faith-based organization that owns and operates a number of hospitals, including a Catholic hospital here in Pueblo. As they are large enough to have their own risk pool, the Centura system is self-insured. This means, of course, that if the government requires the insurer to provide birth control, then the faith-based group in this case is still the one offering it.
Just when you think you’ve got it figured out…
I spent some time this morning mulling over options to help overcome this additional hurdle. Maybe the government should provide the birth control in these cases? But then those same religious groups object to taxpayer funds subsidizing something they object to. Maybe all the employees should all pay a little bit into a pool that allows those who need it to get birth control. But this places individuals in the same position as the organizations if they object to the use of contraceptives. That, and you know some folks will cry “socialism” if such a proposal was offered. So scratch that.
Many women’s advocacy groups, and millions of individuals beyond those, vocally support the right of women to access affordable contraception. Aside from being a matter of personal empowerment, it also makes good fiscal sense to keep unwanted pregnancies from occurring, doesn’t it? That is, if you don’t take religious issue with the practice itself. And I would also point out that hormone replacement therapy (which is done with the same pills as traditional birth control in many cases) is a matter of health and quality of life for some women, and actually has nothing to do with fertility.
So perhaps those who feel strongly about ensuring these women have access to contraceptives should contribute to a fund accessible only by women who work for a religious organization that has filed for exemption in the case of being both self-insured and faith-based with an explicit policy against contraception. I have no idea exactly how many people would be affected, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re not talking tens of millions.
Before going any further, yes, I know groups like Planned Parenthood offer such services. But keep in mind that some folks who think birth control is acceptable don’t feel the same way about abortion. And considering the population we’re talking about here, it seems an unlikely partnership. Best to keep it separate from anything else. Make it a stand-alone nonprofit that subsidizes birth control for these women specifically and nothing else.
I thought about requiring all other insurance companies to pay into this pool, especially since birth control saves them money in the long run instead of paying for pregnancy, childbirth and all that follows. But then we’re back to more government requirements. So I’m back to the belief that those of us who believe strongly that this is a right these women should have ought to be willing to back such statements up with the money to make it happen.
Self-insured religious groups are off the hook. The government gets to call the compromise they’ve forged a victory. Individuals get the care they need, and advocates have the opportunity to put their convictions into action.
I’m sure someone (or a lot of someones) will point out some glaring omission in my logic, but it seems to me that this is the only reasonable solution. And as the saying goes, if you have a better idea, let’s hear it!