Recently the Obama administration put forth an "olive-branch" proposal to help temper the opposition by many Christian churches and faith-based non-profits to that part of the Affordable Care Act mandating that all employers provide free birth control as part of their standard health-care packages. When the original rules were announced, several faith-based organizations objected and were issued exemptions. But after enough time elapsed for more religious nonprofits to digest the full impact of the rules implementing the Affordable Care Act, the rift deepened, and nearly 50 lawsuits have been filed challenging the mandate.
This latest proposal by the Obama administration to change the rules provides that nonprofits opposed to contraceptives for religious reasons could opt out of providing them to employees as part of their standard benefits' package and that birth-control coverage would be available to their employees through stand-alone insurance policies at no cost to the employees or the employer. Supposedly, insurers "would find that providing such contraceptive coverage is cost neutral because they would be insuring the same set of individuals under both policies and would experience lower costs from improvements in women's health and fewer childbirths." (A full explanation of the new proposal can be found in a white paper, Women's Preventive Services Coverage and Religious Organizations, released on February 1 by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.)
It appears that initially the Obama administration miscalculated the depth and fury of the opposition to this mandate -- an opposition initially from the Roman Catholic Church, but joined by several evangelical churches and religious not-for-profits, including colleges and schools, hospitals, and charities. These churches and faith-based organizations share a major tenant that is basic to their faith and creeds: that life begins at the time of conception, and anything that aborts or interferes with that life is contrary to the will of God. Hence, birth control and abortion are at the forefront of their opposition.
Let's face it! Regardless of how much time is spent discussing or arguing about this issue, it is very unlikely that many minds will be changed. Those who are pro-life will remain that way, and those who favor the use of contraceptives and the practice of abortion are not likely to change their minds. We seem unable to put our heartfelt differences aside for even a few minutes and, as Isaiah suggests, "reason together." (1:18) So, how do we move forward from here? Do we continue to stand our ground and argue with each other or, at least for now, do we focus on another element of the new proposal where there possibly can be some consensus?
In my opinion, there is one very important issue in all of this that needs to be addressed that has nothing to do with our heartfelt religious convictions. If this issue cannot be resolved, there would be no reason to discuss our contentious religious differences. What am I referring to?
It is the sentence quoted earlier from the Department of Health and Human Services suggesting that providing birth control for thousands of employees of religious nonprofits will be "cost neutral" -- that there will be no cost to the employees or the employers because there will be fewer childbirths and women's health problems that insurance companies will have to pay for. Not meaning to be disrespectful, but it has been my experience that there are very few worthwhile things in life that come free of charge. I would like to see the research that leads to the conclusion that providing contraceptives to thousands of women will come at no cost.
Furthermore, this newest proposal only addresses paying for contraceptives for employees whose employers provide benefits through insurance companies. There are many organizations that self-insure, and Robert Pear, writing about this newest proposal in the Health Section of the New York Times on February 7, addresses this issue: "The most difficult question, which the administration has yet to resolve, is how coverage will be provided and financed for employees of self-insured faith-based institutions, which serve as both employers and insurers."
It is "par for the course" for politicians to assure us that new programs will be cost neutral, that the benefits will pay for the costs. But ever so frequently we find out after it is too late to do anything about it that those claims are without merit.
Putting aside momentarily our differences about the use of contraceptives and employers being compelled by the government to provide them, it seems to me that all Americans have a right to know more about how this proposal is going to be paid for, and the government has an obligation to let us see the results of research verifying that providing contraceptives for thousands of women will, in fact, be "cost neutral."
For now, let's put aside our disagreements stemming from our personal and deep-felt religious convictions and turn our attention to how much this proposal really would cost and how it would be paid for. Once that matter is honestly addressed, we can then turn back to our religious concerns. But until the cost problem is resolved, as far as I am concerned, there is nothing else to discuss.