Let's just get this out of the way, shall we?

It seemed as though now is as good a time as any to address the elephant in the living room. Like anyone who has a sense of what’s happening in this country – but particularly Catholics, I’ve been following the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs mandate situation very closely. Like most, I’ve been appalled – but not surprised – at the media mischaracterization of the objection of not only each and every Catholic Bishop in the United States (yes, we’re up to 100% now!) but also roughly 2500 other Christian and Jewish leaders too. It seemed a good time as any to debunk the media misrepresentation and general misunderstanding of the general public as it relates to this issue.

First, to clarify – the HHS mandate will require that each and every health insurance plan offered by each and every insurance company provide coverage for contraception (this includes class one carcinogen birth control pills and IUDs), sterilization (this includes tubal litigation and vasectomies), and abortion inducing drugs (this includes drugs such as RU-486 - which is made by the Roussel Uclaf who is in turn owned by Hoescht AG, formerly known as IG Farben who made Zyklon B and conducted medical experiments for the Nazis – and Ella). Because each and every plan is required to cover these products and services – at *no* cost to the person being insured – each and every resident in the United States will be required to pay for these services regardless of whether or not they a) need them b) use them or c) find them morally objectionable. This isn’t just about religious entities, this applies to everyone residing in the United States. The overall health insurance mandate requires that every individual carry health insurance or pay a fine, so outside of objecting to the mandate by paying the fine and not being covered – there is no ‘choice’ for those individuals, religious entities or even companies who find these products morally objectionable. The only choice that exists is a) pay for coverage and put your conscience aside or b) pay a fine and not be covered (which leaves us pretty much where we are today with people losing their homes and lives being bankrupted by skyrocketing health care costs).

Let’s set aside, for the time being, the argument as to whether or not one believes that the Church and others should or shouldn’t believe in the moral objections of contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs because the issue at hand isn’t one’s beliefs, but rather the idea of whether or not the government has the right to do the following:

  1. mandate that an individual or business entity purchase a particular product in the private marketplace using their private purchasing power
  2. mandate that an individual or business entity purchase a particular product in the private marketplace using their private purchasing power to which they have a moral objection based on religious beliefs

The Department of Health and Human Services has states that the reason for this mandate is that it is ‘less expensive to prevent an illness than to treat it.’ The first glaring issue with this particular mandate is that the Department of Health and Human Services is classifying pregnancy as an ‘illness’. I’m pretty sure that I speak for every mother out there when I say that – even at the moments I have been most frustrated with my children – I have NEVER thought of my children as diseases to be cured. Moving beyond that glaringly obnoxious categorization as declared by the HHS, there are a number of inconsistencies with this argument.

The first inconsistency is that insurers have come out since the contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drug mandate (‘You keep using that lengthy term – why?’ – because this isn’t just a contraception issue as the media would want you to believe) and indicated that they are unable to provide contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs at no co-pay or cost to clients without recouping the cost elsewhere. Contrary to the belief of the Dept of HHS, insurers do not a) have a money tree in the backyard upon which they can pick continually regenerating supplies of cash to pay for services b) have a deal with providers of the aforementioned services and drugs to receive them for free (hence, doctors and drug companies are also lacking the money tree in the backyard) and c) are also not able to pay for these services and drugs by way of Unicorn droppings. Here’s a big lesson in life – ‘Nothing in life is free, ‘free’ only means that someone else is paying for it.’ With that in mind, we know that the insurers will cover the costs the only way that they know how – by rolling the costs into the premiums charged to their customers. Who are those customers? Ultimately, you and I (‘But wait – my company pays my insurance – not me.’ – True, but the insurance they pay is part of your compensation package and is related to the company employing you. Indirectly, its the company using money allocated to ‘you’.). As such, the so-called ‘accommodation’ by the White House is really an indication of how stupid they think the general public is by trying to tell them – ‘No, you won’t be paying but the insurance companies will.’ making the accommodation an insult to the intelligence of the voting population.

The second inconsistency is that by doing this the insurance companies save money. The average cost of ‘treating’ a pregnancy is $7500. The average annual cost of the birth control pill is $600. If a woman is on the pill for the majority of her child-bearing years (18-40), it would cost the insurance company roughly $13200 for the cost of her contraception. And this is a cost savings how?

A third and most glaring inconsistency is in what the Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t tell you about the fact that the birth control pill with its doses of synthetic hormones is considered a class one carcinogen. This means that it presents a risk in increased instances of certain types of cancers.

modifies slightly the risk of cancer, increasing it in some sites (cervix, breast, liver), decreasing it in others (endometrium, ovary).

Yes… it does decrease some cancers, but did the HHS factor in the cost of treating cervix, breast and liver cancer in their overall cost savings to the insurers because I’m willing to bet that chemotherapy, radiation and extended hospital stays are not inexpensive as are mammograms etc…

Finally, there is an even more obvious and glaring inconsistency in the HHS mandate. We are told that it is a ‘cost saving’ measure. Given that there were roughly 4.1 million babies born in the US last year and the average cost of ‘treating’ that pregnancy was $7500 we can ascertain that the cost of delivering those babies totaled $30.8 billion. Its hard to find statistics on the money spent on birth control pills alone in the United States, but a NYTimes article referring to the sale of Bayer’s ‘Yaz’ pill noted that at $616m a year in sales it represented 18% of the marketplace of the pill which puts the total market at roughly $1.2 billion. Of course, that number doesn’t include the cost of sterilizations and abortion inducing drugs. But, we can determine the that government wants to ‘save’ insurers roughly $26b per year (if we assume that the cost of all services and products to be provided for ‘free’ total $4b per year). Is it a savings? Yes. Will it be ‘free’? No. But if its all about cost savings then why didn’t the HHS mention the annual costs to insurers associated with obesity? According to the CDC, in 2008 we spent roughly $147b per year on obesity and obesity related illnesses here in the US. Our obesity rates are on the rise so we can assume that this amount is higher today and we are less than four years later.

If the HHS was truly concerned about ‘saving’ money for the insurers, wouldn’t they want to help target the health care costs of obesity? $26b may be a lot of money saved by not having to deliver those pesky little ‘diseases’, but if we could lower the obesity rate we could save up to $147b. $147b is larger than $26b right? So why not implement mandates that would target obesity?

Consider this idea… what if when you went grocery shopping, you were required to purchase – at a minimum – foods that would provide your family with a perfectly balanced meal plan for the week. You could purchase products you wished to have, but you would need to purchase the ‘healthy’ items first. We would all carry a card that would track our purchases that would need to be presented at the check out with each purchase and it would have a record of our purchases. If you’d purchased the healthy quota for the week, then you could purchase the yummy stuff – if not, you’d need to buy the remainder of the healthy stuff before you could purchase the Coca-Cola, the chips, the chocolate bars etc… If you didn’t like the food you were required to buy, that’s okay – you wouldn’t have to eat it. You could, if you wanted, leave it in a large bin outside the store that would pick up food and take it to the homeless. If you didn’t want to purchase these items, you could pay a fine and then be free to purchase the items you wished to purchase. Wouldn’t this help combat obesity?

‘Wait a minute. You can’t tell people what they have to buy!’ – you exclaim. Why not? That’s exactly what the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs mandate says. It says that anyone – because of the mere fact that they are living breathing human beings residing in the United States – must carry health insurance with a minimum of coverage as outlined by the HHS. Keep in mind that the overall insurance mandate exists because the government knows that by legislating that insurance companies are no longer able to restrict based on pre-existing conditions and people will not pay for the insurance until they get sick – it forces them to buy in and cover the costs. Hence, they are requiring everyone to purchase a pre-defined government product from a private enterprise. Isn’t this ultimately the same as the grocery store example? The products you would purchase from the grocery store would be pre-defined by the government and purchased from a private enterprise. Seem far-fetched? Not really. Health insurance is now mandated by the government and we need food to survive, so the grocery store example is actually *less* invasive because they don’t mandate that you go to the grocery store, they just say ‘if you do… you will purchase this’ in an attempt to promote healthy eating in the United States and to save money.

Keep in mind that all of this ruckus over the contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs issue could have been avoided if the HHS had simply offered two basic plans: one with the objectionable services and one without. Why didn’t they do that? Simple, the premiums would be higher for the one *with* the objectionable services (remember, insurers need to recoup the cost somewhere and the Unicorn poop just wouldn’t cover it) and people would figure out that they were, in fact, paying for these services after all. Insurers and the HHS need everyone to pay premiums in order to offset the increased cost of providing services for ‘free’.

I recently saw a quote that said:

If what happens in your bedroom is none of my business, then please don’t make me pay for your supplies or consequences.

Thought that quote provided a little levity and honesty in an otherwise heavy discussion.

In reading several pieces about the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs mandate, I came across a piece by Marc John Paul at ‘Bad Catholic’ in his ‘Open letter to Barack Obama Concerning Recent Tyranny‘. Marc John Paul is an 18 year old Catholic man who is wise beyond his years. He raises several wonderful points regarding the exercise of religious freedom and is extremely articulate. Perhaps one of the most significant points he makes is that this mandate is extremely insulting to women:

I know our world is idiotic and sexist to the point of the embarrassing belief that women cannot prevent pregnancy without pills, but as it turns out, they can. In fact, if you’re a woman reading this, chances are you’re preventing pregnancy right now. (If not, rethink your sex life.) Thus a health-care provider not providing free access to artificial contraception does not damn women to pregnancy — oh, the horror — any more than not providing diet-pills would damn them to obesity.

Let’s clarify one point he makes above to counter the misleading media representation – the objection to the mandate is NOT the Catholic Church or anyone of the 2500 religious leaders of the US trying to restrict access to birth control for anyone. To date, over 90% of women have reported that they have had access to birth control when trying to prevent a pregnancy. This isn’t about access to birth control and an attempt to restrict it in any way – its about individuals saying ‘That’s fine if you want to use it, but please don’t make me pay for it.’ Right now roughly 90% of insurance plans cover it, but the fact is that with this mandate no one will have a choice any longer as to whether they choose to cover it or not.

Finally, as this mandate pertains to religious freedom – the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drug mandate clearly flies in the face of the US Constitution. The First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

If the government will not permit me to ‘opt out’ of paying for drugs and services against which my religion has a clearly defined moral objection – how is government *not* ‘prohibiting the free exercise thereof’? Quakers are not required to serve in the military as it violates their religious beliefs. The Amish are entirely exempt from carrying any health insurance and even Muslims may also find themselves exempt from the overall insurance mandate – both based on religious beliefs. The same individuals, however, are not will to recognize my religious beliefs and that of millions across the country. The Fourteenth Amendment provides ‘equal protection under the law’. If we are willing to allow for the exemptions based on some religious beliefs, but not others – aren’t we then allowing our government to violate the Fourteenth Amendment by allowing for religious discrimination?

I will continue to pray that those of us who believe that these products and services are morally objectionable will be given the choice to not have to pay for them as part of our health insurance. If allowed to stand, it sets a precedent in allowing for the government to mandate any product be required to be purchased by individuals from private entities. I hear the sales of Chevy Volts have been dwindling, perhaps we could mandate that every family making over $170k purchase one of those next!

Today’s writing wasn’t exactly ‘Lent’ related… but I did want to get it out there as it pertains to religious liberty in the US and it does help open the door as to further writing as to why I believe in Natural Family Planning as a viable family planning method.

God Bless.

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