(Catholic Culture) — The Catholic Health Association (CHA) is calling upon the Obama administration to broaden the religious exemption to the HHS mandate to include Catholic hospitals. The public demand marked a dramatic turn by the CHA, which had parted company with the US bishops by supporting passage of the "Obamacare" health mandate, and had not previously voiced opposition to the legislation. The CHA represents most of the Catholic hospitals in the US. The CHA indicated that it could be satisfied by an amendment that would broaden the definition of a "religious employer." However, the CHA seemed to be recommending compromise language that the US bishops' conference has already rejected, and that would leave many Catholic institutions still covered by the contraceptive mandate. “CHA has long insisted on and worked for the right of everyone to affordable, accessible health care,” the CHA stated in its comments. “We welcomed the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and support the ACA’s requirement that certain preventive services be available at no cost to the individual. We remain deeply concerned, however, with the approach the Administration has taken with respect to contraceptive services, especially abortifacient drugs and sterilization.” The CHA statement recalled that the administration has proposed “to create an exemption to the contraceptive coverage requirement for certain religious employers, defining the term ‘religious employer’ so narrowly as to exclude Catholic hospitals and health care organizations as well as other religious institutional employers. CHA objected strenuously to the inappropriately narrow definition in its comment letter date September 22, 2011 and objected again when it was announced in January 2012 that the Administration would not make any changes to the definition.” The statement continued:
The final rule released on February 10, 2012 implemented the narrow religious exemption as proposed, but also indicated the Administration’s intent to propose additional rules to implement the contraceptive coverage requirement in a way that would accommodate the concerns of nonexempt religious employers with objections to providing, paying for or referring for contraceptive coverage. While this new development seemed at the time to be a good first step, our examination and study of the proposal as outlined then and in the ANPRM [Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] has not relieved our initial concerns. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, we continue to believe that it is imperative for the Administration to abandon the narrow definition of “religious employer” and instead use an expanded definition to exempt from the contraceptive mandate not only churches, but also Catholic hospitals, health care organizations and other ministries of the Church.“If the government insists that all employees have access to contraceptive coverage without cost sharing, then it should provide and pay for these services directly,” the CHA statement emphasized.