“Adjustment” to HHS Mandate Nothing But a Shell Game

Shell GameEarlier this hour, President Obama announced in a White House Press Conference an “adjustment” to the HHS Mandate. The Mandate is set to go into effect in August, and will require all employer health plans to provide free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacients.

The HHS originally provided a “religious exemption” so narrow that it would exclude Catholic hospitals, universities and charities, forcing these institutions to act in direct opposition to Catholic teaching through the health care plans they provide. Institutions run by other religious organizations would be likewise affected.

In response to outcry from religious leaders—including 171 Catholic bishops—and Americans from across the political spectrum, Obama today outlined an “adjustment” to the HHS Mandate whereby the objectionable services will be paid for by insurers rather than directly by employers.

Setting aside the fact that contraceptives are not preventative health care—since pregnancy is not a disease—Obama’s adjustment is nothing but a shell game.

At the end of the day, religious employers are still required to provide health plans that offer free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacients.

And the cost of those “free” free services—ostensibly now to be borne by the insurer rather than the employer—has got to come from somewhere. From where? The premiums paid for those plans, of course.

Insurance companies aren’t stupid, and they’re not in business to give things away—not even not-for-profit insurers like Blue Cross Blue Shield, which still have to maintain the bottom line. They’ll quote employers a premium for their plans that takes into account the number of employees likely to demand these “free services.”

Obama’s “adjustment” is nothing but a cynical ploy to diminish the political fallout of the HHS Mandate. Fortunately, there’s no sign that religious and pro-life leaders are falling for it. Some are even calling it worse than the original mandate.

Nor should anyone be fooled by Obama’s disingenuous claim that what he did today was to “speed up” an accommodation process originally intended to unfold over the next year.

When the final Mandate was announced on January 20, a year “extension” was provided to religious institutions before they would be required to implement it. That’s all. The Mandate was final. As New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan put it, “The president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”

But lest his effort to rewrite history be exposed, Obama—with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at his side—hurried off after making today’s announcement without taking any questions from the press.

It’s not surprising that Obama doesn’t want to face questions on this bogus “adjustment”—just as he doesn’t want to face the plain language of the U.S. Constitution with its guarantee of religious freedom. But Mr. Obama will have no choice but to face voters’ ire come election day.

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