Searching for Mandate Solutions

Joan Frawley Desmond, Senior Editor of National Catholic Register, has compiled a good summary of proposed legislative solutions to the HHS mandate.

The most recent legislative action is conscience protection inserted in the HHS appropriations bill.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services and Education, introduced the beefed-up conscience language in an appropriations bill for 2013 that faces a full committee and full House vote and passage in the Senate, where the Blunt Amendment, a similar conscience-protection measure, was turned back in a close vote in March.

This action is backed by the USCCB.

The House Labor/HHS Subcommittee “took a first, urgently needed step toward upholding rights of conscience and religious freedom in our health-care system” by including two key provisions in its appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013, said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, in a July 18 statement.

What are the chances of this passing?  Probably better than the Blunt Amendment, or the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.

The Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act, introduced by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Diane Black, R-Tenn., would repeal the penalties imposed on employers for non-compliance with the HHS mandate.  The USCCB is not so sure about this legislation.  Richard Doerflinger is the USCCB’s chief lobbyist on these issues.

“We have been studying it and find that it may not help our institutions as much as we thought. The Sensenbrenner bill leaves the mandate in place, but rescinds tax penalties for non-compliance,” Doerflinger said.

“But the Obama administration now says the way it will enforce this mandate with respect to religious employers is that they will not penalize them for non-compliance. When they try to put out a Catholic health plan, the government will have the insurance company or a third party insert the contraception coverage over the religious institutions’ objections,” he explained.

There is much debate on whether this bill goes far enough.  It does not repeal the HHS mandate, and leaves some of the worst provisions in place.  For example, it does not change the HHS’s unjustly narrow definition of a “religious organization.”  Nor does it change the definition of “preventative services.”  Some think that passage of this act would relieve the political pressure on the Congress and the Administration, while leaving the mandate in place.  However, it may be the only legislation that can be passed in the current political environment.

In the final analysis, everything depends on the election in November.  Consider carefully what the various candidates, for state and federal office, have said–and done–about these issues.

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