National Catholic Bioethics Center publishes ethical guidelines for businesses

The NCBC has published guidelines for employers who do not qualify as “religious” employers and are directed by law, and under threat of crippling fines, to comply with the HHS mandate.  The document, Options for Non-Exempt Employers Under PPACA, examines four different options for the non-exempt employer.  Those options are:

1. Willingly Comply

2. Provide Morally, Non-Objectionable Insurance

3. Drop All Coverage

4. Temporarily Comply Under Protest

Willingly assenting to providing such coverage is not licit under Catholic moral teaching.

Providing morally non-objectionable insurance (if it could be found) would be moral, but probably not prudent, given the massive fines faced by employers.

Dropping all coverage will also result in high fines.  Dropping coverage is also unjust treatment of employees.  Depending on circumstances, this option could be moral.

Temporarily complying with the mandate while protesting, for example pursuing legal action, could also be moral.  This temporary compliance must end when insurance exchanges become available in 2014.  At that time, the employer would drop all coverage and pay the $2000 per employee per year fine.

The best option found by these bioethicists is still not very prudent; the business operator is not acting immorally or unjustly, except they are paying a huge fine to the government which should rightly be used for other things.  For example, expanding your business or hiring new employees, if you are a private business.  For example, providing food for poor people, if you are a soup kitchen.

There are no good choices for employers facing the HHS mandate.


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5 Responses to National Catholic Bioethics Center publishes ethical guidelines for businesses

  1. dougindeap says:

    The NCBC Guidelines make plain that employers are not “forced to provide services they consider morally objectionable,” notwithstanding contrary assertions (even by bishops). The Guidelines acknowledge, albeit grudgingly, that the option of not providing health insurance to employees is “morally sound.” While nonetheless maintaining that this option is “unfortunate” in that the NCBC dislikes that the insurance the employees obtain on their own will include coverages the NCBC finds objectionable, the NCBC at least recognizes that is a policy objection and not a claim that the employers’ religious liberty has been abridged. This policy objection also confirms my earlier observation that the real concern of the bishops was not so much assuring the religious liberty of employers, but rather exercising some control or influence over their employees’ choices.

    The NCBC expresses concern, understandably, about the ability of employees to obtain insurance on their own, but fails to account for the greater availability of such insurance to individuals under the exchanges established under the ACA. That is one reason that so many employers are considering that option for reasons entirely unrelated to religion.

    • Gwen says:

      This is incorrect. Employers are being forced to provide services to which they morally object. That is why it is called a “mandate” from the HHS and not a “request.” It’s a mandate backed up by fines. This is clearly coercive. Read the language of the mandate. It uses words such as “employers will provide…..” and then backs it up with fines if the employers do not provide.

      The NCBC comments only on the ethics of the specific action, not on the prudence, and certainly not on the business sense. Let me give you a simple example. Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada, also known as St Vincent’s dining hall, will be forced by the mandate to provide these morally objectionable “services” to all employees. CCNN will refuse to do so. As a result of CCNN’s refusal, they will be penalized by the government. CCNN’s refusal to provide the “services” is considered a moral action by the bioethicists. So, CCNN will be fined; they and their attorneys estimate that the fine will be more than $64,000 per year (this is based on them having 62 employees.) So CCNN will be OK morally–they will refuse the government mandate and pay the fine. But where will the money come from for the fine? CCNN estimates that $64,000 will buy 28,318 meals for the poor at St Vincent’s dining hall. To avoid committing a moral evil (providing abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization), they will be diverting food from 28,318 meals from poor people to the IRS. I talked this afternoon to the director of CCNN, and he said, “we will not comply with the mandate. But I don’t know where we will get the money to pay the fine.”

      So, the option of not providing health insurance to employees is morally sound, but not prudent and certainly not just. Why would the government be pushing so hard to make employers with religious objections provide services already ubiquitous and inexpensive in our society? As you consider the impact of this mandate, think about the poor and homeless in our community who will be affected.

      • dougindeap says:

        Regardless of whether it is called a “mandate,” the law provides that an employer who chooses not to provide health insurance and, instead, pay the assessments thereby complies with the law. Having this option, employers manifestly are not “forced” by the law to act contrary to their consciences.

        With respect to the amount of the penalties, take into account that employers typically pay $5,000 to $10,000 per employee per year for health insurance. Under the ACA, those choosing not to provide such insurance will “save” all of that expense for the first 50 employees and, for the rest, all of that expense less $2,000 for each employee. Some employers choosing this option likely will increase wages somewhat to offset the expense their employees will incur by purchasing insurance individually. Whether any particular employer increases wages to the point of netting a greater or lesser expense than before (i.e., when providing insurance) is that employer’s choice. As the two studies I mentioned indicate, a sizeable portion of employers are considering this option because they see it as economically favorable.

        In any event, the point is that employers have a choice that does not violate their consciences, even if some may debate whether that choice also is a good business decision.

  2. Gwen says:

    Doug, if you won’t actually read the law, I can’t make you read the law. It is not “called” a mandate. It is a Federal law that mandates compliance. It is a mandate, which means that it is a coercive law that forces an action, backed up by a penalty for non-compliance.

    The mandate forces employers into an untenable situation. They are mandated to buy “services” that violate their faith. Do you really believe that the government is doing the right thing by mandating citizens, under penalty of fine, to do something against their faith? Especially when the other “choices” involve first, violation of federal law and payment of hefty fines, at the expense of their business, the service they provide, or the profits they make. Do you really think that forcing employers to buy abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives is so important as to take the food out of the mouth of our local homeless and poor people?

    • dougindeap says:


      Actually, reading the law is a good idea. First, while many refer to an employer “mandate”, the law does not “mandate” or otherwise require that employers provide health insurance to their employees. The Congressional Research Service confirms that the ACA “does not explicitly mandate an employer to offer employees acceptable health insurance.”

      Second, the law does not “back up” the non-existent mandate with “a penalty for non-compliance.” Rather, the pertinent provision, Internal Revenue Code section 4980H, provides that if any large employer (i.e., one having at least 50 full-time employees) “fails to offer” its employees a qualifying health plan, “then there is hereby imposed on the employer an assessable payment equal to” $2,000 per employee per year after the first 30 employees. The statute characterizes this “assessable payment” variously as a “tax” and an “assessable penalty.”

      An employer choosing not to provide health insurance has not “violated” the law since there is no such mandate to violate. The law simply provides that an employer who does not offer such insurance is obligated to pay the “assessable payment.” An employer who does that thereby complies with the law. The law, thus, affords employers a choice of two ways to comply with the law: (1) provide qualifying health insurance or (2) don’t provide qualifying health insurance and pay the assessable payment instead. An employer choosing the latter has not violated the law and paid a penalty; rather he has simply chosen one of the prescribed ways to comply with the law.

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