Christ Medicus — Initiatives
On June 29, 1997, Mike O’Dea founded the Christ Medicus Foundation with several goals in mind, two of the most important being: 1) to educate religious and lay leaders on the impact of the health care industry and government health care policy on the practice of faith and religious liberty; 2) and to educate federal and state legislators on the need for specific legislation that protects individual right of conscience and religious liberty in the receipt and provision of health care in the marketplace.
The foundations of religious liberty and individual right of conscious are rooted deeply in American history, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, President Washington’s historic farewell address, many statements of our Founding Fathers, and legal precedent. As Thomas Jefferson declared to New London Methodists in 1809, "no provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority." Jefferson’s statement expresses a conviction on respect for conscience that is deeply embedded in the history and traditions of our Nation and codified in numerous state and federal laws, including laws on health care.Until enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111–148, referred to as PPACA, or ACA for short), the federal government has not sought to impose specific coverage or care requirements that infringe on the rights of conscience of individuals, insurers, plan sponsors, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders, such as individual or institutional health care providers.
However, PPACA creates a new nationwide requirement for health plans to cover essential health benefits and preventive services (including a distinct set of preventive services for women), delegating to the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to provide a list of detailed services under each category. Accordingly, PPACA imposes new requirements with respect to the provision of and payment for specific objectionable services (sterilization, contraception and abortifacients), that are in direct conflict with the dignity of human life and the teachings of the Catholic Church.
While PPACA provides an exemption for some religious groups that object to participation in such services, it does not allow individual purchasers, plan sponsors, and other stakeholders with religious or moral objections to decline providing or obtaining coverage of such items or services, or allow health care providers with such objections to decline to provide them.
By creating new barriers to health insurance and causing the loss of existing insurance arrangements, these inflexible mandates in PPACA jeopardize the ability of individuals of faith and good conscience to exercise their natural and constitutional rights to freely participate in health insurance that is consistent with their faith and firmly held beliefs. To specifically address these critical concerns, the Christ Medicus Foundation has led the way in creating consensus at the federal government level for immediate action to protect our rights to religious liberty and individual rights of conscience in health care and caring by writing the original drafts of the Rights of Conscience legislation for further development by members of Congress. This effort has resulted in two specific bills.
The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011 (RRCA) was introduced to amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to protect rights of conscience.
The purposes of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act were:
- to ensure that health care stakeholders retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions, without fear of being penalized or discriminated against under PPACA; and
- to ensure that no requirement in PPACA creates new pressures to exclude those exercising such conscientious objection from health plans or other programs under PPACA.
Unfortunately, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act was not enacted by Congress. However, new, similar legislation has been recently introduced to Congress in an attempt to accomplish what the RRCA did not – the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.
Introduced on March 4, 2013, the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (HCCRA) proposes to amend title I of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to declare that nothing in such title shall require an individual to purchase individual health insurance coverage that includes coverage of an abortion or other item or service to which the individual has a moral or religious objection, or prevent an issuer from offering or issuing, to that individual, individual coverage excluding such item or service.
The HCCRA also makes similar denials about requiring a health insurance issuer or group health plan sponsor to purchase, sponsor, or cover an abortion or other item or service to which the sponsor or issuer has a moral or religious objection.
Further, the HCCRA denies that PPACA authorizes imposing a tax, penalty, fee, fine, or other sanction in relation to health insurance coverage or a group health plan that excludes such an item or service.
The HCCRA also would amend the Public Health Service Act to codify the prohibition against any action by the federal government and any state or local government receiving federal financial assistance that subjects a health professional, a hospital, a provider-sponsored organization, a health maintenance organization, an accountable care organization, a health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan to discrimination on the basis that the entity refuses to participate in abortion-related activities.
The HCCRA would require that the Secretary of Health and Human Services designate the Director of the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to receive and investigate complaints alleging a violation of abortion discrimination prohibition.
Finally, the HCCRA will create a cause of action for the Attorney General, or any person or entity adversely affected, to obtain equitable or legal relief for any violation of this abortion discrimination prohibition. A cause of action can be commenced and relief may be granted without a prerequisite pursuit of administrative remedies. Actions can be commenced against a federal or state governmental entity.