In Case You Missed It: People Shouldn't Have to Choose Between Health Coverage and Conscience
People Shouldn't Have to Choose Between Health Coveage and Conscience
by Congressman Diane Black
January 3, 2014
For all the news surrounding the bungled roll out of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, one of the most disturbing aspects of the law was actually inserted into it by design.
Indeed, over the objections of religious groups, Health and Human Services (HHS) inserted a rule that requires employers to provide all employees with free access to all FDA approved contraceptives. These include some abortifacients such as Plan B (the “morning after pill”), and ella, (the “week after pill.”)
Faith based organizations across the country have rightfully responded with outrage over this HHS mandate, as it forces them to contradict some of the their most closely held religious values. America has a deeply held and constitutionally protected freedom to practice religion, and our laws should not force individuals or businesses to violate their beliefs just to operate a business or access health insurance.
The HHS mandate jeopardizes jobs and health insurance by forcing organizations and businesses to choose between paying crippling fines for choosing to abide by their conscience or dropping healthcare coverage for all employees. Furthermore, employers who desire to supply their employees with health care coverage will face fines of up to $100 per employee per day—up to $36,500 per employee each year—for refusing coverage of even one listed drug. In contrast, if they offer no health insurance whatsoever, the fine is only up to $2,000 per employee each year.
Private businesses and non-profit organizations, including the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, have filed suits against HHS to protect their First Amendment rights that are working their way through the courts right now. In all, there have been 89 cases filed with almost 300 plaintiffs nationwide according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Recently, the Supreme Court announced that it would examine the mandate in two cases that will appear before the court, including the high profile suit from the retailer Hobby Lobby.
While I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will act responsibly and overturn this unconstitutional mandate, I am also working to address it in Congress. That is why in March of 2013 I introduced H.R.940 – the Health Care Conscience Rights Act. This legislation would provide full exemption from the HHS mandate and enforce conscience protections for individuals and health care entities that refuse to provide, pay for, or refer patients to abortion providers because of their deeply held beliefs. My bipartisan bill currently has 190 cosponsors and we are working with House Leadership to put it to a vote and send it along to our counterparts in the Senate. For anyone interested in helping our fight in Congress, you can visit www.cosponsor.gov to become a citizen cosponsor of my legislation.
In the fight to protect religious freedom, we must act on all fronts – whether through the courts or through acts of Congress. The HHS mandate unconstitutionally supersedes the protected constitutional right of religious freedom and harms faith-based organizations that are dedicated to supporting the most vulnerable and needy in our communities. Increasing access to healthcare should not require employers and employees to choose between coverage and their conscience, and HHS would be best served by dropping this outrageous mandate.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black represents Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District. She has been a registered nurse for more than 40 years and serves on the House Ways and Means and Budget Committees.