Archbishop Lori reacts to Supreme Court health care ruling
By Maria Wiering
Archbishop William E. Lori said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does not affect the U.S. bishops’ concerns about the so-called “contraception mandate” included in the law.
“This ruling does not touch our issues,” he said in Rome, where he will receive his pallium June 29. “This doesn’t diminish the need to struggle to protect religious liberty.”
The June 28 ruling upheld the constitutionality of the law’s “individual mandate,” that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance, but placed some limits on the federal government’s ability to determine Medicaid funding.
Some Catholics hoped the individual mandate would be struck down, along with the entire law, thereby eliminating the U.S. Department and Human Services’ mandate that requires employers, including most religious employers, to provide insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, which violate church teaching.
The HHS mandate is part of the law, but not among the measures considered in the court ruling.
The court considered four health-care related questions: whether the court could rule on an act before it took effect; whether Congress has the power to require Americans to buy health insurance via the individual mandate; whether the law’s others measures would remain in effect if the individual mandate were struck down; and whether Congress could require states to expand their Medicaid programs.
In response to the ruling, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pledged to continue to work to repair the law. They opposed its final passage in March 2010, citing three concerns: its allowance of federal funding for abortion, failure to include conscience protections and failure to provide a means for “immigrant workers” to purchase insurance.
“The decision of the Supreme Court neither diminishes the moral imperative to ensure decent health care for all, nor eliminates the need to correct the fundamental flaws described above,” the U.S. bishops said in a statement.
Archbishop Lori told the Catholic Review that the bishops “are urging that the Congress would devise legislation that would fix those three problems, and we hope the president will sign it.”
“It should be said that bishops of the United States have long been on record as supporting universal access to health care,” Archbishop Lori said. “We are on record of supporting universal access to health care since 1919, almost a century.”
In a speech a speech following the ruling, President Barack Obama said his administration will implement the law, and “we will work together to improve it where we can.”
The president signed the 906-page health care bill into law in March 2010. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal the law in 2011, but the repeal bill failed in the Senate.
The Catholic Medical Association said in a statement that the organization “is disturbed and disappointed” that the law was upheld, calling the decision “both alarming and deeply wrong,” citing its concern that the law includes taxpayer funding for abortion and forces employers to pay for drugs and services which violate Catholic teaching.
Marie-Alberte Boursiquot, president of the CMA’s Baltimore Guild, said that the law “puts too much power in the hands of the federal government.”
“The Catholic Medical Association supports meaningful health care reform that is based on sound ethics and economics,” she wrote in remarks she prepared to give to a Catholic audience June 28.
Boursiquot also took issue with the HHS mandate, which she said will force “conscientious private employers to violate their consciences and cooperate with evil by funding services with are morally objectionable.”
The Catholic Health Association said it was “pleased” with the ruling.
“CHA has long supported health reform that expands access and coverage for everyone,” said its president and chief executive officer Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity.
“As the ruling is examined, Catholic-sponsored health care providers will continue to lead health care transformation – finding new and better ways to provide compassionate, high-quality care while strengthening the communities we serve,” Sister Carol said in a statement.
Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, which advocates for Maryland’s hospitals, including the state’s Catholic hospitals such as Mercy Medical Center and MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore, said the decision replaces “negative ‘what ifs’ with a single positive one: What if America changes for the better the way we take care of people?”
“The health care reform bill is not perfect,” Coyle said in a statement, “but the reform bill is helping Marylanders, and, taken to its full effect, promises better coverage and care for generations to come.”
Robert Henkel, president and CEO of Ascension Health, a Catholic healthcare system that includes St. Agnes Hospital in Catonsville, said the court decision “is another important step in ensuring 100 percent access and coverage for all Americans.”
“Ascension Health supports the expansion of Medicaid and we will continue to review the decision for clarification on Medicaid expansion penalties,” he said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Catholic Health Initiatives, a health care system that currently includes St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, said the organization was “gratified” by the ruling.
“CHI’s highest priority is access and coverage for all, and the Affordable Care Act is a huge step in that direction, providing health care to millions of additional Americans who do not now have insurance,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The statement added that the health care system is concerned about the narrow definition of “religious employers” in the HHS mandate.
“CHI remains hopeful that (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) will not infringe on the religious liberty of church-affiliated organizations,” the spokesperson said.
A statement from the Marriottsville-based Bon Secours Health System said the organization is “pleased” that the law was “found constitutional and will remain in effect.” It pledged to work with the Catholic Health Association, legislators and the administration “to implement the ACA as fairly and effectively as possible.”
Maryland U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, both Democrats, praised the court decision.
“If you want to see what democracy looks like, come to Constitution Avenue. This is what democracy looks like,” said Sen. Mikulski, a Catholic, referring to the street that runs north of the U.S. Supreme Court building.
Several of Maryland’s members of Congress also weighed in on the decision.
Democrat Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who represents District 2, said the ruling “is not about a victory for Democrats or a loss for Republicans. It’s about providing all Americans will access to quality, affordable healthcare.”
Republican Rep. Andy Harris, who represents District 1, a Catholic, said he was disappointed by the court’s decision, but respected its authority.
“The Supreme Court’s decision determined the law’s constitutionality, not whether the law is good policy. Americans have already made up their mind on that issue. A majority favor repealing the law,” he said in a statement.
Maryland Gov. Martin J. O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, both Catholics, commended the decision in a joint statement.
“In upholding the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Supreme Court chose to protect the lives of millions of Marylanders and millions of Americans. American businesses will be more competitive in the global economy with lower health care costs and a healthier workforce,” they said.
Although the law was upheld, it still faces lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the HHS mandate, which is currently being challenged in federal courts by about 50 Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, charities and other institutions.
The U.S. bishops consider the mandate a violation of religious freedom, and it has played a prominent role in the bishops’ calling for the Fortnight for Freedom – 14-days of prayer, education and public action on religious liberty – which ends July 4.
Even if the health care act were to be struck down, “We’re not out of the woods,” Archbishop Lori said at a press conference in Rome before the ruling.
“We’re still facing religious liberty challenges,” Archbishop Lori said. “The mere fact that the administration would try to impose such a rule (as the HHS mandate), would try to interfere with whom we would hire, shows a mindset, and that mindset won’t go away with one or two Supreme Court rulings.”
Christopher Gunty in Rome contributed to this story.
Copyright (c) June 28, 2012 CatholicReview.org