I’d like to bring this debate back to reality a little:
Jenky said the Catholic Church is under attack by the U.S. government….Thundered the prelate, “Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care. In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.”
That’s a lot of accusations, but I’ve been looking into the current reality of Catholic health care systems in the US, so I’ll just say I have some questions on the one thing he mentioned and that’s health care. As I have noted here several times, the truth is that Catholic health care systems are merging with secular entities (both non-profit and for-profit) all over the country. These mergers raise big questions about access to reproductive health care, but they also should be mentioned within the political debate over the HHS rule on contraception and large employers because mergers are relevant to that debate.
To do that, I’ll show you two articles. One focuses on a wholly Catholic health care system merger and a change in for-profit/tax status, and the other focuses on a Catholic health care system/secular system merger and the concerns about limiting access to those health care services that are forbidden under the religious rules. Both of these issues are huge, right now, in the real world. You’d never know it from listening to the bishops.
This is the for-profit merger idea, where they’re merging and transforming a non-profit Catholic health care entity into a for-profit health care business. Does anything change re: the religious exemptions if we’re now talking about a for-profit hospital? Should the debate on this change?
The nation’s first for-profit Catholic health care venture could make an offer to acquire St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson as early as this week, a deal that could bring millions in tax payments to the cash-strapped city annually, a councilman said.
A for-profit Catholic health care system may make an offer to buy St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center this week that could add millions to city coffers. Ascension Health Care Network, a joint venture between the nation’s largest Catholic health care system and a private equity firm, is also negotiating with St. Mary’s Hospital in Passaic and St. Clare’s Health System in Morris and Sussex counties for a potential network of seven hospitals The joint venture between the non-profit Ascension Health and Oak Hill Capital Partners is unique — it will retain each hospital’s Catholic mission while operating for profit. “These will be run as Catholic hospitals,” said Leo P. Brideau, president and chief executive officer for Ascension Health Care Network.
This is the other model, where they merge with a secular for-profit health care system, thereby imposing new rules on health care delivery and, presumably, employees (pdf):
Seventy-six times at Waterbury Hospital last year, women who gave birth via Caesarian section also underwent tubal ligation — otherwise known as having their tubes tied to prevent future pregnancies. Under the merger planned for the city’s two hospitals, those women would be required to undergo the C-section, get stitched up, recover, then visit a separate facility to undergo ligation surgery and recovery.
It’s an extra layer of risk, doctors say, but one that will be necessitated by the merger of Waterbury and Saint Mary’s hospitals with an outside, for-profit company — a deal both hospitals say is paramount to their continued existence. The goal is to build a state-of-the-art, 800,000-square-foot hospital, estimated to cost $400 million. When Texas-based LHP Hospital Group and Waterbury Hospital signed on with Saint Mary’s, they agreed to adhere to Ethical and Religious Directives outlined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These guidelines prohibit tubal ligations, abortions and other reproductive procedures. Advocacy groups say the compromises to women’s health go too far.”
Waterbury Hospital has been trying to think of creative ways to maintain all of its current services while also upholding Catholic standards. The hospital plans to ask for state approval to build a separate, “ambulatory” center near, but not inside, the new acute-care hospital. The center would offer tubal ligations, but not tubal ligations directly after a C-section. Abortions would also not be performed. Other, yet-to-determined services would also be provided at the ambulatory center.
On that, I have two questions for the bishops. First, how is it that they are willing to engage in elaborate negotiations and compromises with state and local governments to successfully complete these mergers, but they are unwilling, or, as they claim, unable to manage a HHS rule change? Second, I have been told for 20 years that money is fungible. No impure money or services may mix with or be touched by pure money and services, or something like that. The fungible nature of money seems very elastic and I haven’t really been able to pin down what it means. Why doesn’t that apply in these mergers? If they’re partnering with giant secular health care systems (and they are, in the second piece linked here, despite sentimental and outdated notions to the contrary) surely tainted money and/or benefit is getting past the legal barriers they’re setting up and into (or out of) the pure money coffers. “Fungible” seems endless when it’s used in the political arena, but not when it’s used in the real world, apparently.
These mergers are part of the reality of health care delivery in this country. What does all this mean to us, out here in the cheap seats, in light of the claim of a “right” to broad religious exemptions that was raised when the HHS rule changed? I don’t know, but I think this aspect should probably be discussed since the bishops brought it up and all.