Did Chief Justice Roberts’ Ruling Give Catholics an Out on the HHS Mandate?

So I believe there’s a larger issue at play in yesterday’s Supreme Court Ruling on the Affordable Care Act. But first, let me offer a preview of a few issues. First is, the ruling was not about the HHS Mandate which requires employers who offer healthcare to include provisions for contraception and other controversial procedures. The Bishops have been stating that this violates a conscience clause for religious individuals as well as Catholic entities who object to such procedures. And the court’s recent ruling says nothing about that, per se. The ruling, as stated for the majority by Chief Justice Roberts, only states that the government can impose a tax on those who don’t purchase a health plan and that the government has the right to impose such as tax constitutionally.

This ruling, I think, also provides Catholic Bishops with an out because now each individual must purchase health insurance or pay the tax penalty. So the Bishops could very well simply no longer offer employees in Catholic institutions health insurance. In fact, ALL employers could very well not offer health insurance to their employees. The argument I’m making is that health care now no longer needs to be tied to employment. The government also offers it (or will, starting in 2014) and individuals can purchase it on their own or even choose to pay the tax for not buying it. Creating a pathway for individuals to purchase health care would get corporate dollars out of the health care game and create a healthy competition among the health care companies for individual dollars as opposed to corporate dollars, which I believe would create a thriving marketplace, cause the price to drop for said individuals, allow the best healthcare companies to rise to the top and create good relationships between health care companies and hospitals and practitioners.

Wow! I sound very libertarian today!

But what’s important for Catholics here in particular and why do I think the Bishops should do this?

Well, because then they no longer have to violate their consciences! They just pay their employees a higher cost of living wage and no longer offer health care. The church as a corporate sole need not make any corporate purchase that violates their conscience, rather they would allow individuals to decide whether they should purchase heath care at all. They might even hope that Catholics at large would refuse health care costs and just pay the tax. In essence, this is a libertarian kind of argument where the individual liberty is exercised.

If I’m the Bishops, (and I’m not) I walk away and I do so quietly. I phase out the current plans at a specific date (preferably 2014) and inform my employees that they’ll need to purchase plans on their own. They can simply take the government’s plan, which by the way is mostly free. Or they can opt for private insurance. Employees could also negotiate for say $5000 more to help defray the cost of living expense that would go up–which would be available because the line item of health care is now gone.

The larger question is whether this is cooperating with evil. I would say that it might be—but then therefore so is paying employees any salary. Why? Because I can take the money I make right now working in the church and go and buy drugs, pornography, or a host of other immoral things. How would this be any different? It wouldn’t. Unless I’m missing something–which I very well may be. Help me out if I am.

In short, the Church wouldn’t have to violate their conscience and everyone would get universal health care and it would be up to the individual to use contraception or not. The Federal Government would offer what the church could seemingly no longer do without violating its conscience and the church would simply look to give their employees a just wage which is all one could hope for.

But here’s something that I really like about this idea. Why SHOULD healthcare be tied to employment anyway? Why shouldn’t I get to compare who has the best rates for my family amongst the number of insurance companies that are out there? After all, that’s what I do with car insurance and home insurance and even pet insurance (You’re welcome, Haze the Dog)! Instead, right now I’m forced to use the insurance that my Human Resources Department chooses and offers to all of the employees–which very well might not be in my best interest and right now if I opted out of that plan I’d end up paying a whole lot more because individual plans aren’t as good as corporate ones and that’s because corporate dollars are inflated by the insurance company because they have the businesses over a barrel–especially the small business owner who pays through the teeth for their employee. The Affordable Care Act will give them tax breaks, but I think it might still be too expensive.

In short, I think this is win-win. But tell me what I’m missing if I am.

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  1. What you are missing is that then the Bishops would have to give up control and actually trust the laity to make informed decisions based on their consciences. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon because then the bishops would have to admit that we can think for ourselves. I know, it’s such a radical concept!


    1. Well, it’s true that they would have to do that—but don’t they already do that with this one exception. I mean, I can take my money that I make as a campus minister and buy condoms, pornography, or a host of other things that are clearly immoral (I don’t by the way–just for the record! LOL) and the Bishops have no control over that. It seems to me that this is the key to this and that Chief Justice Roberts made this easier for them to make the decision because now people don’t exactly HAVE to buy healthcare…they would just have to pay the tax as a penalty and the tax isn’t even all that crippling–it’s based on income. So the Bishops could say, well, we don’t have to offer something that violates our consciences (which could be looked upon in two ways–heroic or apathetic–I suppose, but also could be very pragmatic. Long term, I suspect most employers will take this option creating serious supply and demand issues for health care companies because now they have to appeal to the masses and not just to HR people in corporations and organizations. And if you don’t like any of those companies, you can take the Obama plan for nothing. Would you have to pay the tax in that instance? Probably, which is how the government will afford it but it’s also how you can afford it as well.


  2. Hmmm…. Well, I’m not sure that I agree with you and I find it extremely unlikely that any of us getting church paychecks will see such an increase in our salaries if the dioceses stop offering benefits.

    The real humane answer to healthcare is to not have it tied to employment. However, it should not be tied to profit either. That is why single payer universal care is the solution. In this country? Unlikely that it will ever happen.


  3. True. I don’t see that happening though. I think the Bishops might opt to give a lump sum, especially to their priests at some point to get out of this entirely. We’ll see.


  4. I’m pretty sure the law is structured such that employers with more than some minimum number of employees (I think 50) are required to provide health insurance, or else be fined/taxed. It might be that this penalty is only if your employees choose the government option over private insurance, but as mentioned in the comments above, it’s not like Church employees really get paid very much, so it’s reasonably likely that many of them would opt for the government option.


  5. Two more thoughts:

    1) The ruling upholds the law, so it doesn’t change the situation in the slightest, so your idea was as valid Monday as it is today, which suggests that actual lawyers (which neither of us are šŸ™‚ ) have probably considered such a plan and we would have heard about it if it were feasible, which suggests that there is indeed some other factor that we’re missing. Said factor may or may not be what I mentioned above ā€¦ like I said, I’m not a lawyer. [That was intended as a lazy proof-style sequence of conclusions, not as a rant.]

    2) You could probably reasonably argue that there’s an aspect of justice to be considered in providing lower-cost health care if possible, but that’s much more fungible than paying for sterilisations.


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