The headquarters of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is seen in Washington in this file photo.
WASHINGTON — Proposed changes by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services related to the Affordable Care Act shows some movement by the Obama Administration but falls short of addressing the church's concerns, the U.S. bishops say.
“We have been assured by the Administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage," the bishops said this week. “ We remain eager for the Administration to fulfill that pledge and to find acceptable solutions," said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
He said the bishops will submit their concerns through formal comments,in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all.
“At the same time, we will continue to stand united with brother bishops, religious institutions, and individual citizens who seek redress in the courts for as long as this is necessary.”
He listed three key areas of concern: the narrow understanding of a religious ministry; compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners.
Cardinal Dolan said the new proposal seemed to address one part of the church’s concern over the definition of a church ministry but stressed that “the Administration’s proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries.
“It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education and Catholic charities. HHS offers what it calls an ‘accommodation’ rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches.”
He highlighted problems with the proposed “accommodation.”
“The government would require all employees in our ‘accommodated’ ministries to have the illicit coverage—they may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children—under a separate policy,” he said.
He also noted that “because of gaps in the proposed regulations, it is still unclear how directly these separate policies would be funded by objecting ministries, and what precise role those ministries would have in arranging for these separate policies. Thus, there remains the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities.”
The proposal refuses to acknowledge conscience rights of business owners who operate their businesses according to their faith and moral values, he added.