01/30/12 A ruling by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has prompted some religious groups to begin speaking out in opposition.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement on January 20 concerning the final ruling on preventive health services. She said, “Today the department is announcing that the final rule on preventive health services will ensure that women with health insurance coverage will have access to the full range of the Institute of Medicine’s recommended preventive services, including all FDA -approved forms of contraception.”

The following stipulation was included in her statement: “Beginning August 1, 2012, most new and renewed health plans will be required to cover these services without cost sharing for women across the country.”

On Thursday, CEO Albert Gutierrez of Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center along with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades met with local media to share their views on the ruling.

Pope Benedict XVI  appointed Bishop Rhoades as the ninth Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend  in November of 2009 and he was installed in January of 2010.

Ironically, Bishop Rhoades learned that the regulation was finalized as he was traveling to a March for Life in Washington, D. C..

Gutierrez said, “Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center and Trinity Health share the Catholic Health Association’s disappointment that the definition of a religious employer was not broadened in today’s announcement by HHS regarding the final rule on preventative health services for women. This was a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection.”

Both Bishop Rhoades and Gutierrez said, “It’s something we will fight.” But it’s not a fight that they will be battling alone. According to Bishop Rhoades, bishops and others all over the country are speaking out on the topic that touches on religious liberty. Bishop Rhoades said, “The ruling is a direct violation of our religious beliefs.” He added, “Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of American democracy.” “This is a fundamental issue of religious liberty, something that is dear to all Americans.” he said. He voiced his objections that religiously affiliated nonprofit employers must include insurance coverage for woman seeking contraceptives and sterilizations saying they are things the church believes are immoral.

“The challenge that these regulations posed for many groups remains unresolved. This indicates the need for an effective national conversation on the appropriate conscience protections in our pluralistic country, which has always respected the role of religions.” Gutierrez said.

Bishop Rhoades called the ruling an “unprecedented attack”. He said, “It’s unusual for the Federal Goveremnet to mandate this type of care.”

Sebelius seemed to disagree with those voicing religious concerns. She said, “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services. The administration remains fully committed to its partnerships with faith-based organizations, which promote healthy communities and serve the common good.”

The ruling does contain some provisions for religious- based organiazations.

Sebelius said, “ Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law. Employers wishing to take advantage of the additional year must certify that they qualify for the delayed implementation. This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule.”

However it is clear in the wording that they are expecting compliance. She said, “We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, who will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support.”

Bishop Rhoades said they will go to the legislative and judicial branches of the government to be heard.

According to Bishop Rhoades, Saint Joseph hospitals and health clinics along with similar not-for-profit organizations are being unfairly penalized.

Bishop Rhoades said the ruling affects thousands and thousands of employees. He said, “If we only served Catholics, we would be exempt; but we serve all people and have a great number of non-Catholic employees.”

Bishop Rhoades said they will use the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Heath Services, Catholic Charities USA, and Catholic colleges and universities to help in their fight against the ruling. He said, “I will be writing a column for Today’s Catholic as well.”

Gutierrez said, “It was important to have clarified by the President and the Secretary of

HHS that this decision will not undermine the current conscience protections in law and also very necessary for our ministries.”

Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center is a not-for-profit, multi-hospital healthcare system located in North Central Indiana, offering a full range of services. SJRMC includes: a 254-bed acute care hospital at their Mishawaka Campus; a 58-bed acute care hospital at our Plymouth Campus; a 40-bed Rehabilitation Institute; Outpatient services of the Elm Road Medical Campus; and the Saint Joseph Physician Network that includes 20 practices with over 40 physicians.

Carol Anders Correspondent