WASHINGTON — Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, is resigning, ending a stormy five-year tenure marred by the disastrous rollout of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Obama accepted Ms. Sebelius’s resignation this week, and on Friday morning he will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace her, officials said.
The departure comes as the Obama administration tries to move beyond its early stumbles in carrying out the law, persuade a still-skeptical public of its lasting benefits, and help Democratic incumbents, who face blistering attack ads after supporting the legislation, survive the midterm elections this fall.
Officials said Ms. Sebelius, 65, made the decision to resign and was not forced out. But the frustration at the White House over her performance had become increasingly clear, as administration aides worried that the crippling problems at HealthCare.gov, the website set up to enroll Americans in insurance exchanges, would result in lasting damage to the president’s legacy.
Even last week, as Mr. Obama triumphantly announced that enrollments in the exchanges had exceeded seven million, she did not appear next to him for the news conference in the Rose Garden.
The president is hoping that Ms. Burwell, 48, a Harvard- and Oxford-educated West Virginia native with a background in economic policy, will bring an intense focus and management acumen to the department. The budget office, which she has overseen since April of last year, is deeply involved in developing and carrying out health care policy.
“The president wants to make sure we have a proven manager and relentless implementer in the job over there, which is why he is going to nominate Sylvia,” said Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff.
Last month, Ms. Sebelius approached Mr. Obama and began a series of conversations about her future, Mr. McDonough said. The secretary told the president that the March 31 deadline for sign-ups under the health care law — and rising enrollment numbers — provided an opportunity for change, and that he would be best served by someone who was not the target of so much political ire, Mr. McDonough said.
“What was clear is that she thought that it was time to transition the leadership to somebody else,” he said. “She’s made clear in other comments publicly that she recognizes that she takes a lot of the incoming. She does hope — all of us hope — that we can get beyond the partisan sniping.”
The resignation is a low point in what had been a remarkable career for Ms. Sebelius, who as governor of Kansas was named by Time magazine as one of the five best governors in the country and was even mentioned as a possible running mate for Mr. Obama in 2008. The two had bonded when Ms. Sebelius endorsed his presidential bid early in 2008, becoming one of the highest-profile Democratic women to back him over Hillary Rodham Clinton, and helping him deliver a big win in the Kansas caucus.
White House officials were quick to point out the many successes during Ms. Sebelius’s tenure: the end to pre-existing conditions as a bar to insurance, the ability for young people to stay on their parents’ insurance, and the reduction in the growth of health care costs. In addition, Ms. Sebelius helped push through mental health parity in insurance plans and worked with the Department of Education to promote early childhood education.
Ms. Sebelius said in an interview Thursday that she always knew that she would not “be here to turn out the lights in 2017.”
“My balance has always been, when do you make that decision?” she added.
The president had been under pressure for months to fire Ms. Sebelius. But he had resisted, in part because he did not want the Department of Health and Human Services to undergo more upheaval amid all the problems plaguing HealthCare.gov, and in part because of his general reluctance to publicly rebuke top officials.
In November, Mr. Obama defended the secretary, saying in an interview with NBC News that she “doesn’t write code; yeah, she wasn’t our I.T. person.” As recently as last week, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, rejected any suggestion that Ms. Sebelius would be fired.
Mr. McDonough on Thursday praised Ms. Sebelius as “a fierce advocate,” and said she had been “tenacious in her belief” in the president’s health care law. “She’s fearless in her defense of this idea at the heart of the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “The president has commented to me countless times how much he admires that.”
But the Affordable Care Act faces a range of obstacles, political and otherwise, in the months ahead, and Mr. Obama is hoping that Ms. Burwell can smoothly steer the department and bring stability to its operations. In addition to the midterm elections, in which the health care law is the target of a flood of negative ads, the administration is grappling with policy questions: how it will levy the penalty on individuals who lack insurance, how much premiums will increase in the coming year, and how ultimately to administer the requirement that employers provide insurance.
Ms. Sebelius was not Mr. Obama’s first choice to lead the department; he wanted former Senator Tom Daschle in the job, but Mr. Daschle withdrew after acknowledging that he had underpaid his taxes for several years. She was hailed as a gifted political leader in Kansas who could work with legislators of both parties, but those skills were less evident in Washington, and she became a more distant figure within the administration.
In addition to the political battles over the passage and carrying out of the Affordable Care Act, she clashed with conservatives over contraception, and faced frequent calls for her political head by Republicans after the health care website failed to function properly last year.
In hearings on Capitol Hill, Ms. Sebelius sometimes grew rattled under grillings by lawmakers. In one hearing at the end of October, Ms. Sebelius declared that HealthCare.gov “has never crashed.”
“It is functional,” she added, “but at a very slow speed and very low reliability, and has continued to function.”
She made that statement even as large screens in the hearing room showed a live shot of the website with a page that said: “The system is down at the moment. We are experiencing technical difficulties and hope to have them resolved soon.”
An appearance on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” last October went even worse. Mr. Stewart challenged her to “sign up for Obamacare” before he could download every movie ever made. “We’ll see which happens first,” he joked. She struggled to defend the website and the health care law.
The television appearance prompted headlines like “Kathleen Sebelius’s Daily Show Disaster” and accusations from Republicans that she was being misleading. Democrats squirmed at her stiff and halting performance, which did little to inspire confidence in the website’s performance — or her own.
But Ms. Sebelius has not been at the center of public attention in recent weeks. After the poor public performances, her national television exposure has been limited, but she has continued to make small appearances and has been active on Twitter to press for people to sign up for insurance. She submitted to another grilling before a Senate committee Thursday and later acknowledged that the idea of not doing “a hearing every three weeks sounds pretty good to me.”
The president’s choice of Ms. Burwell to lead the Department of Health and Human Services places a relative outsider at the helm of one of the government’s largest bureaucracies. Ms. Burwell has led the president’s budget office since taking over for Jacob J. Lew, who is now the Treasury secretary.
Ms. Sebelius said she hoped — but did not expect — that her departure would represent the beginning of a more cooperative period in Washington to make health care better.
“If I could take something along with me,” she said, it would be “all the animosity. If that could just leave with me, and we could get to a new chapter, that would be terrific.”
Married same-sex couples will now have full access to Medicare benefits, regardless of which state they live in.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced today that same-sex spouses will be recognized in administering several aspects of the Medicare program, regardless of where the couple lives. CMS works with the Social Security Administration to conduct eligibility determinations and to enroll seniors and individuals with certain disabilities in the program. Social Security updated their own marriage recognition policies earlier this week to streamline the handling of marriage-based claims involving transgender people. The announcement is the latest step implementing the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Social Security will now begin processing Medicare enrollment, requests for Special Enrollment Periods, and requests for reductions in late-enrollment penalties for many same-sex spouses. Eligibility for Medicare Part A and Part B coverage is particularly important for these families, who are disproportionately likely to be uninsured. Medicare Part A coverage is often available without paying a monthly premium, making it important for the many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who struggle to afford coverage.
CMS’s decision also impacts some people who previously applied for a Special Enrollment Period but were denied eligibility because of DOMA. For some of these couples, Social Security will be able to approve a second request for a Special Enrollment Period, giving more immediate access to Medicare coverage.
For couples in domestic partnerships or civil unions this announcement offers some, but not all of the same opportunities for enrolling in Medicare coverage. Domestic partnerships and civil unions are not recognized for the purposes of Special Enrollment Periods for applicants 65 or older, but for those applicants with disabilities who are under 65, Special Enrollment Periods are available as long as the applicant has coverage through their partner’s current employer.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and CMS have been acting to implement the Windsor decision since last year, expanding coverage for many same-sex couples. HHS announced last month that plans sold through Marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act must offer coverage to all same-sex spouses starting in 2015. In September of last year, CMS sent a letter to state Medicaid directors granting discretion to recognize same-sex marriages according to the laws of their state.
Read the full Medicare announcement here.
WASHINGTON — Legally married same-sex couples just gained a little more recognition in the eyes of the federal government.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that, starting with the 2015 plan year, insurance companies that provide coverage to opposite-sex spouses must also offer that coverage to same-sex spouses.
"In other words, insurance companies will not be permitted to discriminate against married same-sex couples when offering coverage," Matthew Heinz, the director of LGBT outreach at HHS, wrote in a blog post.
The clarification to the agency’s rules stems from last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional. The update applies to all Qualified Health Plans, which are plans that meet the minimum standards of the Affordable Care Act and are certified by the state or federal exchange where it is purchased.
Heinz notes that it’s already the case that married same-sex couples must be treated equally when it comes to seeking financial assistance for buying coverage through the health insurance marketplace, regardless of where they live. So, for example, if a same-sex couple who is legally married in Massachusetts moves to a state like Texas, where gay marriage isn’t recognized, that couple must still be treated the same as an opposite-sex married couple when it comes to seeking financial help for purchasing coverage.
Conservatives have been using a 10-year-old child in need of an organ transplant as a prop for their latest lies about ObamaCare.
Although conservatives have tried to tie this case to Obamacare, the rule barring children under 12 from being placed on the adult transplant list was promulgated in 2005 under the Bush administration.
Even before President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, Republicans were vowing to repeal it. It’s no wonder, because polls showed that the basic elements of the ACA were quite popular, and there was a real danger that it would become more so as people found out that the plan denounced as a “monstrosity” by the National Republican Senatorial Committee would not trample on their liberties so much as help protect their health. Desperate to avoid this, the GOP-controlled House has voted no fewer than thirty-seven times to repeal Obamacare in the three years since it was enacted.
Now letters produced by a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that many of these same anti-Obamacare Republicans have solicited grants from the very program they claim to despise. This is evidence not merely of shameless hypocrisy but of the fact that the ACA bestows tangible benefits that even Congress’s most extreme right-wing ideologues are hard-pressed to deny to their constituents.
As I reported here last September, Congressman Paul Ryan, who as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 called for its repeal, sent a letter requesting ACA money for health clinics in his district two years earlier. The Nation has obtained documents revealing that at least twenty other Obamacare-bashing GOP lawmakers have similarly pleaded for ACA funds on behalf of constituents. Among them are Kristi Noem, a Republican lawmaker from South Dakota likely to run for the Senate next year, as well as Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who has been touted as a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016.
In one of two letters sent by Portman to the Department of Health and Human Services, the senator requested ACA funds to help a federal health center in Cleveland, where the money could help “an additional 8,966 uninsured individuals” to receive ”essential services,” in his words. In Noem’s case, the congresswoman requested ACA funds to construct a community health center in Rapid City to provide primary services to the uninsured. Both Noem and Portman won office in 2010 campaigning vigorously against the law and have since worked to repeal it.
Though notably less transparent, the behavior of these GOP lawmakers parallels that of GOP governors like Arizona’s Jan Brewer, who blast the president’s health reform package while embracing the millions in Medicaid funds that it provides.
The letter writers include GOP rank-and-file Congress members, leaders and committee chairs, all of whom have supported the repeal effort. David Valadao, for example, a freshman representative who campaigned last year on his opposition to Obamacare, requested funds in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius two years ago for a program to improve “the general health” of the Fresno County area, which he then served as a California assemblyman. Congressman Jeff Denham, a two-term GOP lawmaker who won his seat with support from Tea Party activists, penned a letter recommending the same application for Fresno County. The county Department of Public Health won the grant. Valadao’s and Denham’s offices declined to comment.
The Affordable Care Act authorizes an array of grants to local hospitals, community health clinics and doctor training programs, as well as public health initiatives to improve health and access to care. The billions of dollars in grants are awarded on a competitive basis, and lawmakers on the state and federal levels have sent letters endorsing applicants.
Texas Senator John Cornyn, the Republican whip, wrote to the Centers for Disease Control to recommend a grant for Houston and Harris County. Congressman Michael McCaul, a Republican and the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, wrote a letter praising the same grant request, calling the effort a “crucial initiative to achieve a healthier Houston/Harris County.” Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Thad Cochran of Mississippi also recommended grant request approval for public health or health clinic funding.
House Republicans and the Senate Republican Policy Committee have trashed the ACA’s Community Transformation grants as an Obamacare “slush fund.” In the letters seeking these grants, however, GOP lawmakers have heaped praise on their potential. Cornyn writes in his letter that the grant would help “improve the health and quality of life of area residents.” Congressman Aaron Schock, a Republican from Illinois, congratulated a local nonprofit for winning a Community Transformation grant, noting that the program will give “people the tools to live healthier and longer lives.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee warns of Obamacare that “as this awful legislation gets ever closer to going into effect, the negative consequences are only becoming increasingly clear.” But the NRSC’s chair, Jerry Moran, has hailed programs that exist because of it. In August, he attended a ceremony announcing a $4.7 million expansion of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas. A picture posted on Moran’s official Facebook page shows the senator in a suit with his foot on a shovel to break ground for the health clinic. “That funding—that came from the Affordable Care Act, and he voted no,” says Krista Postai, CEO of the CHC-SEK clinics. She adds that Moran had been supportive of health clinics in the past, and she was disappointed to see him vote against the law that made her clinic expansion possible. Postai noted that her clinics are already improving lives with ACA funding, and that there are thousands of uninsured and disabled people in her community who now receive coverage and preventive care thanks to the law.
Some of the letters obtained by The Nation are from lawmakers who are no longer in office, including Jerry Lewis, Bobby Schilling, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Robert Dold.
The letters of support for ACA grants are a reminder (if one is needed) that some Republican claims against the bill reflect politics rather than policy preferences. GOP Congressman Hal Rogers, who rails against healthcare reform as “socialistic,” wrote a letter asking for an Obamacare health clinic grant almost as soon as the money became available. Federal health centers provide a range of healthcare services regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. The ACA dramatically boosts spending on these centers, by about $11 billion, with the goal of reaching 1.25 million additional patients.
Congressman Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican who has led efforts to repeal healthcare reform, stood next to a 6-foot stack of papers he dubbed the “Obamacare Red Tape Tower of Regulations” at a press conference in May. In October, Cassidy posed for a different type of press event, standing with school administrators in Baton Rouge, scissors in hand, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for three school-based health centers. The ceremony was a celebration of a $500,000 grant authorized by the Affordable Care Act to expand health clinics in area schools.
Before healthcare reform made nearly every federal health program a political football, the Bush administration routinely requested greater funds for federal community health centers with little controversy. But health clinics once supported by the GOP are now on the chopping block. Republicans, led by Congressman Michael Burgess of Texas, have attempted to roll back the ACA’s expanded clinic funding. Also, several of the repeal bills in Congress have targeted the entire law, including funds for health centers and public health initiatives. The fact that they have sought grants for those centers has not stopped Republicans from voting against them. Louisiana’s Cassidy, for instance, voted for Burgess’s bill to shut down funding for clinics.
Whether cutting a ribbon or signing a letter, no Republicans have acknowledged that the health programs they are endorsing are provided by Obamacare.
Some GOP lawmakers have balked at the charges of hypocrisy. “Sen. Chambliss voted against the Affordable Care Act, just as he did the stimulus package. But the bill passed, and if the money is available, we want Georgians to be able to compete fairly with folks from other states for it,” wrote Lauren Claffey, the senator’s press secretary, in an e-mail. Similarly, Senator Isakson’s office e-mailed a statement from the senator claiming: ”I voted against Obamacare and will continue to work to repeal it. However, one of the most important parts of my job as senator is to assist Georgia individuals, businesses and local governments in their dealings with the federal government. Any time one of my constituents has business with the federal government, I try to be as helpful as possible by supporting worthy projects.”
The Family Research Council has caught wind of a new theory percolating in the right-wing blogosphere and in certain circles on Capitol Hill: that the Department of Health and Human Services is using a new Obamacare rule to empower the long-defunct ACORN to commit voter intimidation and fraud.
The new rule in question is HHS’s solution to the problem of signing up 30 million uninsured Americans on the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges. Under the rule, HHS will recruit “navigators” to walk uninsured people through the process of finding an insurance policy on their state’s exchange. According to the Washington Post, “Groups such as unions, chambers of commerce, health clinics, immigrant-service organizations, and community- or consumer-focused nonprofits can use the grants to train and employ staff members or volunteers to provide in-person guidance — especially to hard-to-reach populations — and to provide space for them to work.”
Boustany’s fears were then picked up by Breitbart.com, which announced this week, “HHS resurrects ‘ACORN’ through Obamacare.”
Yesterday, the Family Research Council picked up this story and ran with it in its daily email, warning that an “army of ACORN, Planned Parenthood, and union activists” will use their roles as insurance navigators to “influence people’s party affiliation.” The email adds: “With this administration, it isn’t a question of whether they would abuse their power—but when!”
The rule, which is available for public comment for the next few weeks, also includes a “voter registration provision,” leading many—including Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.)—to question how this army of ACORN, Planned Parenthood, and union activists would twist their access to influence people’s party affiliation. With this administration, it isn’t a question of whether they would abuse their power—but when!
ACORN, of course, disbanded in 2010 after a right-wing smear campaign accused it of large-scale voter fraud – accusations that turned out to be completely false. But that hasn’t stopped 49 percent of Republican voters from believing that ACORN stole the 2012 election for President Obama – an illusion gleefully perpetuated by groups like the FRC.
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
The Obama administration on Friday announced its proposal for a new rules on contraception coverage under the federal health care law.
In the announcement, the administration outlined a proposal still subject to final approval that would allow religious organizations that object to contraception to receive an “accommodation that provides their enrollees separate contraceptive coverage” at no additional cost, addressing an area of the new health care reform law that generated a firestorm last year.
The proposal can be viewed here.
h/t: TPM LiveWire
Late last week more than a dozen Republican governors declared that they will not build the insurance market exchanges called for by the Affordable Care Act, including prominent names like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, John Kasich of Ohio, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Perry of Texas.
On Monday, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma joined them, declaring in a statementthat it “does not benefit Oklahoma taxpayers to actively support and fund a new government program that will ultimately be under the control of the federal government.”
The original deadline for states to notify the Department of Health and Human Services on whether they intend to build their own exchange was last Friday, but the administration extended it to Dec. 14. About a dozen Republican governors are weighing their options, including Chris Christie of New Jersey, Rick Scott of Florida and Terry Branstad of Iowa.
The decisions carry important implications for the long-term arc of Obamacare, which supporters and opponents alike agree is here to stay now that President Obama has been re-elected. The Obama administration wants states to build the exchanges so they have an incentive to make the law work. If the federal government takes over, state-level Republicans have a scapegoat in case things go wrong.
The more states stonewall the exchanges, the more it complicates the task of the federal government. One challenge is that the law lacks an automatic funding mechanism for HHS to set up state exchanges. Enrollment is slated to begin next October, and the exchanges are scheduled to start functioning by January 2014.
Twenty-three states, mostly Democratic, and Washington, D.C. have said they’ll move forwardwith the exchanges, either on their own or in partnership with the feds.
Propelling the GOP governors’ stance is a desire to protect themselves politically from accusations of abetting a law that conservatives fervently oppose. Some governors argue that the regulations are too stifling and provide little flexibility for them to construct the marketplaces in accordance with their states’ needs.
h/t: Sahil Kapur at TPM
Last April, Bishop Daniel Jenky, a Catholic bishop from Illinois, delivered a homily claiming that President Obama “now seems intent on following a similar path” to Adolf Hitler because of his “radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda.” On Wednesday, he came within a hair of ordering every priest under his supervision to campaign for Mitt Romney.
n a letter, Jenky told the priests in his diocese “[b]y virtue of your vow of obedience to me as your Bishop, I require that this letter be personally read by each celebrating priest at each Weekend Mass, November 3/4.” The letter leaves little doubt that Jenky wants Obama out of the White House:
Neither the president of the United States nor the current majority of the Federal Senate have been willing to even consider the Catholic community’s grave objections to those HHS mandates that would require all Catholic institutions, exempting only our church buildings, to fund abortion, sterilization, and artificial contraception. … Nearly two thousand years ago, after our Savior had been bound, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crowned with thorns, a pagan Roman Procurator displayed Jesus to a hostile crowd by sarcastically declaring: Behold your King. The mob roared back: We have no king but Caesar. Today, Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord. They are objectively guilty of grave sin.
For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life. God is not mocked, and as the Bible clearly teaches, after this passing instant of life on earth, God’s great mercy in time will give way to God’s perfect judgment in eternity.
I therefore call upon every practicing Catholic in this Diocese to vote. Be faithful to Christ and to your Catholic Faith.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops proclaimed that the federal budget must place “[t]he needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty” first — adding that the Republican budget authored by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan “fails to meet these moral criteria.” Pope Benedict XVI, for his part, called for more robust government involvement to combat wealth inequality.
Parker: 'HHS Mandate has Made Sandra Fluke a National Icon for Sexual Promiscuity' | rightwingwatch.org
Speaking at the Values Voter Summit, Star Parker blasted Sandra Fluke and hailed her own Christian conversion for saving her from her own “sexual rampage.”
h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW
Democrats have run from health care ever since the Affordable Care Act passed in March 2010, fearful of being burned by a political firestorm. At the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte Tuesday night, they weren’t running.
The opening night of the convention featured an aggressive embrace of the party’s most consequential achievement in a generation, from an emotional clip package highlighting the benefits of the law for Americans with pre-existing conditions to speeches emphatically endorsing the bill that Republicans derisively dubbed “Obamacare.”
“For us Democrats, Obamacare is a badge of honor,” said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services. “No matter who you are, what stage of life you’re in, this law is a good thing.”
“Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition!” she said. “That’s what change looks like.”
First Lady Michelle Obama said Obama prioritized the law because it was “the right thing to do.”
“Barack refused to listen to all those folks who told him to leave health reform for another day, another president,” she said. “He did it because he believes that here in American, our grandparents should be able to afford their medicine, our kids should be able to see a doctor when they’re sick, and no one in this country should ever go broke because of an accident or an illness.”
Tim Kaine, the former Virginia governor who’s locked in a tight race for the U.S. Senate, declared that President Obama “said he’d pass health care reform, and he did.”
A mother, Stacey Lihn, whose daughter was born with a congenital heart defect, described the comfort the law brings her — and warned not to take it for granted.
“Like so many moms with sick children, I shed tears and I could breathe easier knowing we have that net below us to catch us if we fall, or if, God forbid, Zoe needs a heart transplant — Obamacare provides my family security and relief,” Lihn said. “If Mitt Romney becomes president and Obamacare is repealed, there’s a good chance she’ll hit her lifetime cap.”
H/T: Sahil Kapur at TPM
The Obama administration’s birth control mandate took effect Wednesday, granting an estimated 47 million women access to free contraception and a raft of preventive health services.
As of Aug. 1, new or renewing health insurance plans are required to provide birth control to women at no out-of-pocket cost. Houses of worship are exempt and religious nonprofits get a one-year reprieve, as well as the option to pass the cost to the insurance company.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the rule permits free annual well-woman visits for adult females “to obtain the recommended preventive services that are age and developmentally appropriate, including preconception and prenatal care.” Health plans must also provide free screenings for gestational diabetes, human papillomavirus testing and HIV, along with counseling for STDs, breastfeeding and domestic violence.
About 47 million women will have access to these services starting Aug. 1, according to HHS.
Conservatives decry the birth control requirement a violation of religious freedom. Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal the mandate along with the rest of ‘Obamacare’ if elected president.
h/t: Sahil Kapur at TPM
.- Catholic media network EWTN sued the federal government Feb. 9, challenging the Obama administration’s rule requiring many religious ministries to subsidize contraception and sterilization in their health plans.
“We had no other option but to take this to the courts,” EWTN President and CEO Michael Warsaw said in an announcement about the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday. “There is no question that this mandate violates our First Amendment rights.”
“Under the HHS mandate, EWTN is being forced by the government to make a choice,” Warsaw explained. “Either we provide employees coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs and violate our conscience or offer our employees and their families no health insurance coverage at all. Neither of those choices is acceptable.”
Senior attorneys at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed the suit on behalf of the media network, against the Department of Health and Human Services, department secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other government agencies involved with the federal contraception mandate.
Finalized Jan. 20, 2012 as part of federal health care reform, the mandate forces all employers – except those that primarily hire and serve members of one religious faith and exist for the sake of promoting religious values – to buy insurance coverage that will offer sterilization and contraception without a co-pay.
Because EWTN serves not only Catholics but the public at large, the network would not qualify for the religious exemption offered by Secretary Sebelius.
At least one of the mandate’s required drugs, the emergency contraceptive “Ella,” has the potential to cause an early-stage abortion.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have denounced the rule that “forces religious employers and schools to sponsor and subsidize coverage that violates their beliefs, and forces religious employees and students to purchase coverage that violates their beliefs.”
Along with the public opposition from over 160 U.S. Catholic bishops, the rule has also drawn opposition from the Eastern Orthodox churches as well as Protestant and Orthodox Jewish leaders.
Meanwhile, Secretary Sebelius has given non-exempt religious institutions an extra year to comply with the “preventive services” mandate. During this time, however, these religious employers must refer their staff to providers of the same drugs and devices.
Warsaw pointed out that this alternative, proposed as a temporary accommodation, also trampled EWTN’s conscience rights.
“The government is forcing EWTN, first, to inform its employees about how to get contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs, a concept known as forced speech.”
“To make the matter worse, the government then will force EWTN to use its donors’ funds to pay for these same morally objectionable procedures or to pay for the huge fines it will levy against us if we fail to provide health care insurance.”
If the administration’s rule remains in place, the media network could eventually face fines of over $600,000 annually for refusing to underwrite policies contradicting its beliefs.
“This is a moment when EWTN, as a Catholic organization, has to step up and say that enough is enough,” the network’s president and CEO declared.
EWTN is providing further information about the mandate and its lawsuit at www.ewtn.com/hhsmandate.
h/t: Catholic News Agency
The controversial contraception mandate proposed by the president had Congress debating about the morality of birth control, however according to a recent Gallup poll, 89 percent of all Americans and 82 percent of U.S. Catholics agree that birth control is morally acceptable.
In fact, birth control ranked as the most acceptable of 18 behaviors tested this year with the second and third most acceptable behaviors being divorce and gambling, ranking at least 20 percentage points lower.
What does this mean for the embittered battle between congress and the White House?
According to a Wall Street Journal article, Americans overwhelmingly agree that employers should be required to offer birth control, but a slight majority opposes the rule mandating Roman Catholic and other religious institutions from having to provide the service.
Also, the theologically ultraconservative EWTN is suing over the HHS Mandate.
H/T: Huffington Post