The political atmosphere in the United States is more divided than it has been it quite a while and many of the tensions between Republicans and Democrats are coming to the surface and playing out in the healthcare arena. While Obamacare has been a huge victory to many democrats and public health personnel, host of republican politicians and organizations have focused on key specific details of the reform in order to challenge the security of the Act over all. One such detail has been the inclusion of contraceptives on the list of benefits that employer-based insurance must cover with no cost sharing.
The controversy over this inclusion has now been going on for years. You may remember in the spring of 2012 when media attention was drawn to the issue. Although there was an exemption for organizations whose mission was fundamentally religious (ie. houses of worship), religiously affiliated organizations, mainly under the direction of the Catholic Church, said that mandating them to cover contraceptives for their employees violated their right to freely express their religion by forcing them to be complicit in what they believed to be a sin. They claimed this under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Religiously affiliated organizations won this argument, which was a tremendous victory for them.
That, however, was not the end of the controversy. Critics of the law decided to go even further. Now, a full two years after religiously affiliated organizations took the stage on the issue, private for-profit corporations whose owners claim deep religious beliefs against contraceptives are asking for an exemption. The leader at the forefront of this move is Hobby Lobby, a family-owned nation-wide craft store chain headed by CEO David Green. Hobby Lobby has already won in lower courts and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. Green released a letter explaining why he is pursuing this exemption. His rationale included saying that one of the goals of his business is “to run [the] business in harmony with God’s laws,” and that the contraceptive mandate would change that.
The part of this whole controversy that I fail to see the logic in is how employee health benefits have anything to do with the mission of an organization. Salaries are paid to employees as an administrative function. Payment of salaries is never the main mission of an organization. Health insurance is part of the fringe benefit package offered by an employer to make their business competitive and attract workers. Now employers must include insurance that covers minimum benefits in the plan. This is similar to minimum wage requirements. As part of an employee’s benefits, they should not be told how to spend the money and should have the option to choose a plan that covers contraceptives if they want them. By denying employees that option, Hobby Lobby and David Green would be forcing their religious beliefs on their employees by interfering with a decision that should be made between a doctor and a patient while simultaneously punishing only female employees. If a private for-profit business can refuse coverage of a basic service based on the religious views of its CEO, how can employees have any protection over their benefits? When will the avalanche of push back against Obamacare end? Both sides have had to make compromises, but at some point, policy makers and constituents have to accept that the law is here to stay and move on.
Read more about Hobby Lobby’s suit at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-2510856