The Obamacare Contraceptives Controversy

I’m not Catholic nor very religious but certainly defend and respect the rights of those who are. But this whole deal about religious organizations or businesses owned by deeply religious individuals refusing to provide Obamacare to their employees if they are mandated to include family planning hearkens me back to my days as the PR director for one of New York City’s largest Catholic health care systems.

I’m a Protestant, at least on paper, but when I put on my ID card, I towed the company line. But sometimes doing that echoed theater of the absurd:

• The local Right to Life group wanted to offer baby carriages to women in our clinics contemplating abortions as an incentive to keep their baby. Huh? And what happens after the baby is born, often into a life where he or she is unwanted, abused, and abandoned. Would those prim and proper Right to Lifers be there to provide food and shelter and love and support?

• Those seeking abortions in our community were forced to use the non-sectarian hospital a few miles away. But what if we were the only show in town? Would a woman have to be inconvenienced because we as a health care provider refused to provide her this service?

• During the height of the AIDS crisis back in the 80’s, our well-meaning infection control nurse, who happened to be Jewish, started placing condoms in patient bed stands. I’ll never forget how our CEO panicked, and how on a late Friday afternoon all of us in senior management were discretely going from patient room to patent room to retrieve Irene’s little “gift” before it got back to the nuns or discovered by some Catholic patient or board member.

By contrast, I spent a brief stint as the PR guy for a Catholic hospital in Rockland County, upstate New York, most of whose patients were Hassidic, a very strict Orthodox Jewish sect, and the very Irish Catholic Administration decided to remove the crucifixes from patient rooms so not to offend their paying customers. And this was back in 1979!

OK, so what does all this have to do with Obamacare, you ask? Well, I felt this way then, and I feel this way today: a faith-based organization or business operated by religious owners should in good conscience offer these services with this disclaimer:

“While because of our faith, we do not condone, support or approve such and such services, we will make such services available in the interests of those of our (customers) (employees) who do not share our same beliefs.
Period.”

Sure, entities have a right to their beliefs, but at the same time do they have the right to impose these beliefs on others, particularly in the case of Obamacare, their employees? After all, labor law prohibits not hiring a person because of his or her beliefs or lack thereof, so shouldn’t the same principal apply to the health care benefits they are entitled to receive?

There is also the very practical issue of $$$. Hospitals accept billions of dollars in Medicaid and Medicare funding – federal dollars – and businesses receive billions in federal grants and loans. You can’t have it both ways. I know for a fact that as a former heath care exec, any hospital that declined Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement would be closed in a week.

One last example to prove this point: our health care system in NYC offered one of the largest psychiatric networks in the region. When, back in the 90’s, the City of New York, which provided millions in funding for this network, included a clause in its City contracts about non-discrimination against gays, the Archbishop balked. But the City stood its ground: if you don’t agree to this clause, you ain’t gettin’ our money.

Guess who gave in?

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