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January 29,  2012

Catholic bishop decries
new health-insurance rules

Francis Malooly declared that the Catholic diocese will not comply with a recent U.S. Department of Health & Human Services ruling which he said "strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberties."

The bishop said rules promulgated in final form on Jan. 20 would, in effect, require the diocese to indirectly finance abortion and contraception by requiring it to provide its employees with a health insurance policy which covers those and other procedures that violate Catholic morals teachng.

"Unless the ruling is overturned we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences or drop health-care coverage for our employees and suffer the penalties for doing so," he wrote in a message posted on the diocese's website and read at weekend masses in some churches.

The rules, issued as a part of the implementation of the federal health care law, have drawn considerable opposition from politically conservative and religious organizations since they were published in draft form last August.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is one of the most influential groups opposing them. Its stance is based, in part, on the premise that having insurance coverage would provide an additional incentive to seek abortion.

According to the department, the new rules "will require most health insurance plans to cover preventive services for women, including recommended contraceptive services, without charging a co-pay, co-insurance or a deductible." They go into effect next August.

The department "falsely characterizes there as preventive services as if pregnancy were a disease," Malooly said.

The law requires everyone who does not have employer-provided coverage to purchase a policy. That is one of the provisions being challenged by several states in suits expected to be heard soon by the Supreme Court.

"Never before in U.S. history has the federal government forced citizens to directly purchase what violates their beliefs," Malooly said.

He urged people to contact senators and Congress members to seek support for pending legislation to amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that would specify the right of providers to acquire health coverage "that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions without fear of being penalized or discriminated against." Identical legislation has been introduced into both chambers of Congress, but there has been no indication of when, or if, they will be brought before the bodies for consideration.

The Health & Human Services ruling provides an exemption for non-profit religious organizations to provide insurance that does not include contracption coverage. The exemption, however, is limited to organizations which employ or primarily serve only those of the same faith. Religios organizations that do not meet that criteria -- hospitals, schools and, most likley, the diocese itself -- were given an extra year to comply.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health & human services, said in a statement that the department "will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns." Malooly dismissed that as an insignificant concession.

"We cannot -- we will not -- comply with this unjust law [sic]. People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens," the bishop said.

2012. All rights reserved.