In a historic first, an evangelical institution and a Catholic institution are joining forces and filing suit against a government health mandate they claims threatens their religious freedom.
Wheaton College, an evangelical institution, has joined the Catholic University of America in a lawsuit filed in the D.C. District Courts broached and powered by the schools’ “moral” disapproval of a Health and Human Services mandate. The lawsuit is among a slew of others challenging HHS.
The “Preventative Services” mandate under HHS requires that all employers provide employees with health insurance that covers FDA-approved birth control. It also mandates coverage of sterilization procedures and education and counseling for women.
The two schools’ presidents and Kyle Duncan, a lawyer from the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which is the firm representing the schools’ suit, outlined the lawsuit’s details in a press conference call this morning.
During the conference call, Wheaton College President Dr. Phillip Graham Ryken and The Catholic University of America's president John Garvey stressed their schools' alignment on pro-life beliefs.
“This mandate is not just a Catholic issue. It threatens people of all faiths,” Duncan said. “Wheaton’s historic decision to join the fight alongside a Catholic institution shows the broad consensus that the mandate endangers everyone's religious liberty.”
The pair represent religious beliefs that life begins at conception. In essence, they argue the mandated insurance coverage the schools are required to provide would create a moral conflict for their institutions, as it would be covering some common methods of birth control, including the morning-after pill.
“All of our faculty, staff and students choose to abide by [a pro-life decision as a community],” said Ryken during the call. “We’re very clear about the sanctity of life. [Abortion] is against our conscience and our Christian [beliefs].”
However, the Obama administration announced a compromise for religious employers back in February.
The administration said they would require the insurer -- rather than the employer -- to provide contraceptive coverage free of charge for women employed by the entities in question.
Prominent progressive Catholics broke ranks with their conservative counterparts after the announcement, saying the President's administration resolved their concerns.
There is also the fact that birth control pills are often needed for health concerns completely unrelated to sexual activity. Hormornal birth control can prevent many of the complications of polycystic ovarian syndrome, such as endometrial cancer, and prevent ovarian cysts.
Ryken said that while the drugs to be covered are not all abortive drugs, Wheaton College would rather “err on the side of moral caution.”
Wheaton’s decision to join the suit comes after a lawsuit attempting to block the same government mandatefailed in Nebraska federal district court Wednesday. Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas joined the lawsuit.
Duncan wrote an essay on his firm's website asking readers not to “read too much into” the states’ failed lawsuit, saying today’s decision “turns on technicalities.” According to a Becket Fund press release, there are 24 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate, which is one of the provisions found within the Affordable Care Act.
During the call, Ryken said Wheaton College waited to join Catholic University's lawsuit, which it filed on May 21, because officials anticipated that the mandate might have been altered during the Supreme Court decision on the ACA.
Ryken said his school could simply accept the punitive fines for not providing the mandated insurance coverage. He said that fines levied on faculty and staff alone would cost Wheaton College approximately $1.4 million annually.
“We will do everything possible to continue to provide coverage for students, faculty and staff,” said Ryken. “… but I also told them we would be facing these punitive fines.”
Tax Credits For Young Adults
According to the White House, the ACA "provides premium tax credits for young adults making up to roughly $43,000 a year to ensure that they can afford quality coverage in the new state-based Health Insurance Exchanges which start in 2014." If you don't make enough money to buy your own insurance, you can qualify for the hardship waiver.
Bans Gender Discrimination, Covers Women's Health
The ACA bans "gender rating" that allows women to be charged more for the same coverage as men. Women will also have mammograms, domestic violence screenings and birth control covered without a co-pay. And pregnancy is no longer considered a "pre-existing condition."
No Skipping Out On Insurance
Since the Supreme Court found the individual mandate constitutional, uninsured young, healthy people who <a href="http://swampland.time.com/2012/06/28/supreme-court-upholds-obamacare-in-landmark-decision/?iid=sl-main-lede?iid=tsmodule#ixzz1z6R1lR7c" target="_hplink">might've skipped out on buying insurance</a> will have to think again. The mandate kicks in in 2014. <em>Time</em> magazine's Swampland blog reports: <blockquote> These people often forgo insurance because they make the fairly good bet they won't incur expensive medical bills and because they don't have enough earning power to afford policies. Young Americans subject to the mandate are expected to pay more into the insurance pool than they get out, to help subsidize the cost of insuring older, sicker people. Standard insurance policies will likely be more expensive for these people under the ACA than they are now. </blockquote> However, this is also why lawmakers built in additional tax credits for young and poor people, and the law now allows 20-somethings to stay on their parents' insurance even after they graduate college -- up to the age of 26.
The ACA already prevents insurance companies from charging higher premiums to people under the age of 19 with pre-existing conditions. Going forward, it will forbid insurance discrimination based on pre-existing conditions for everyone, regardless of age.
Medical Students Get Help On Student Loans
The ACA gives <a href="http://campusprogress.org/articles/five_ways_the_affordable_care_act_helps_young_americans/" target="_hplink">financial support</a> for the $12 million National Health Services Corps Students-to-Service Loan Repayment Program, which will provide medical school graduates up to $120,000 to repay outstanding loans if they agree to work as primary care doctors in under-served communities. Campus Progress reports: <blockquote>The ACA also creates a Prevention and Public Health Fund, which will help create new positions for primary care doctors, fund training programs for physicians' assistants and nurse practitioners, and push states to invest in health care training and job creation.</blockquote>
The 80/20 Rule Will Improve Campus Health Plans
Most college health centers don't allow students to use outside insurance plans, however, the services they provide will improve. According to <em><a href="http://www.usnews.com/education/articles/2010/09/09/5-ways-health-reform-affects-college-students" target="_hplink">U.S. News & World Report</a></em>: <blockquote>Effective Jan. 1, 2011, all insurance plans must have a medical loss ratio that is at least 80 percent to 85 percent (depending on the plan's size). That means that at a minimum, 80 percent to 85 percent of all premiums paid by policyholders must in turn be used to provide medical care.</blockquote> Many schools had loss ratios closer to 50 percent prior to the law, but increasing that loss ratio means they're providing more through coverage. In other words, it's the "<a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/healthreform/relief-for-americans-and-businesses#young-adults" target="_hplink">80/20 rule</a>": insurance companies (and colleges providing health services) must spend at least 80 cents of your premium dollar on your health care or improvements to care. Insurance companies must also publicly justify their actions if they want to raise premiums by 10 percent or more, according to the White House. The reform law also bans insurance companies and colleges from placing lifetime caps on coverage.
Preventative Services Are Covered
If you're healthy and work to stay healthy, you can avoid more dramatic health issues down the line. A large number of <a href="http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2010/07/preventive-services-list.html" target="_hplink">preventative services</a> are now covered thanks to the ACA, but a few are worth pointing out for college students: Alcohol misuse screening and counseling, Depression screening, Type 2 Diabetes screening, HIV screening, immunization vaccines, STI prevention counseling, tobacco use screening and intervention, cervical cancer screening and contraception coverage.
Catholic Colleges Can't Make You Buy Health Insurance That Doesn't Cover Everything
Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke sparked a debate over whether Catholic colleges should be required to provide contraception coverage for students it requires to purchase health insurance. Georgetown has irked many of its students for years by requiring them to <a href="http://studentaffairs.georgetown.edu/insurance/" target="_hplink">purchase health care plans</a> that do not cover things like contraception. The Obama administration declared insurance plans have to provide free contraception, including the "morning-after pill." Catholic<a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/15/us-usa-politics-contraception-idUSBRE84E1FK20120515" target="_hplink"> colleges have revolted by saying it violates</a> the teachings of their church to provide this, although women often take birth control for health reasons that have nothing to do with their sexual activity. Some have opted to drop their coverage rather than comply with the new federal law. However, to <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/05/17/486102/ave-maria-university-drops-student-insurance/" target="_hplink">accommodate religious institutions</a>, the regulation is structured so that they do not have to actually be the ones paying for contraception.
Aim To Improve LGBT Community Health
Under the ACA, there will be <a href="http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/03/aca_top_10_lgbt.html" target="_hplink">data collection to better understand LGBT</a> health disparities, and increases the National Health Service Corps, which offers LGBT cultural-competence training to corps members through the Department of Health & Human Services.
Young People Can Stay On Their Parents' Insurance To Age 26
Prior to the Affordable Care Act, <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/health/dependent-health-coverage-state-implementation.aspx" target="_hplink">37 states provided</a> some form of this type of coverage for young adults -- some more generous than others. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimated in 2010 that this portion of the bill <a href="http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/01/aca_success.html" target="_hplink">affects 2.37 million people</a>, of which 1.83 million were uninsured.