When it comes to religion and Obamacare, many people rightly focus on the Health and Human Services (HHS) “contraception” mandate that forces religious institutions to violate their consciences. Pro-lifers have also worried about the unprecedented moves Obamacare makes in federally subsidizing abortion. But there’s another concern that deserves attentionfor the good of religion and the health of our religious institutions.
Obamacare creates economic pressures for religious groups (and other groups) to cease providing health insurance. And this should worry anyone who cares about the health of our religious communities and civil society.
Two Catholic colleges—Ave Maria and Franciscan University—have already announced that they’ll be dropping student health insurance for the upcoming academic year. Much media attention has focused on the HHS mandate as the cause of their decision. But while the mandate would force these colleges to act contrary to their mission as Catholic educational institutions, the mandate wasn’t the immediate catalyst for their dropping their plans—after all, the government offered a one-year “safe harbor” waiting period to religious institutions not covered by the historically unprecedented, narrow exemption to figure out how they could then go about violating their consciences.
Something else about Obamacare forced the hand of these colleges: a provision requiring that this September, student health plans must provide benefits covering at least $500,000 of expenses, and that by 2014 they have no annual benefit limit. This is only one of the many Obamacare provisions that will drive up costs beyond what many institutions—especially religious ones—can afford.
Writing at Public Discourse, a biology professor at Franciscan, Daniel Kuebler, explains:
Because roughly 25 percent of student health-care plans have annual limits lower than half a million dollars, this means steep premium increases for these students over the next few years. Franciscan and Ave Maria have indicated that their premiums would go up at least 66 percent this year, and more than double next year. By 2014, when these plans must have no annual limit, the premiums will rise even higher.
Eliminating benefit caps results in increased premiums that will force many colleges to cease offering student plans—and force students to either forgo health insurance altogether or go into the government-subsidized exchanges. Kuebler notes that:
While Obamacare requires that all citizens have health insurance coverage by 2014 [the Individual Mandate], it is hardly a stretch to assume that some college students may decide that risking the small penalty is better than paying the new higher premiums. Indeed, taking that risk would be a financially sound move for the many students who will not experience serious health-care problems during college. And students who do get hospitalized without insurance will still receive care. Their costs will simply be passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher premiums. All they would have to do is pay the fine.
For students who want to maintain their insurance coverage but cannot afford it, government-subsidized plans—which will be paid for by taxpayers—will make up the difference. Thus the side effects of this regulation—one could hardly call them unintended—are that thousands of students will find themselves either without any health-care insurance at all, or dependent upon the government dole for it.
It’s hard to resist the conclusion that the end game here is to move America toward government-run health care. And this should be understood as a threat to religion and civil society just as much as the HHS mandate. It is good for religious organizations themselves and for America as a whole if many different groups within civil society—religious groups included—are able to provide health care and insurance. This not only contributes to a vibrant and competitive market, but also contributes distinctive types of health care—a healthy pluralism of care.
But Kuebler sees Obamacare as working to eliminate not only the competitive market, but the pluralism as well:
At the end of the day, the more people the Obamacare architects can corral into government-approved and -subsidized health care by regulating private plans into submission, the more control they will have over the health-care system. They can then further incentivize the dispensing of contraception, abortion, sterilization, and euthanasia—all of which can be at least short-term cost-savers—and at the same time use their own cold utilitarian calculus to determine who gets access to the health-care system. In a bloated unresponsive government-run system, these are the only ways to drive down costs. This is where we are heading once Obamacare fully flexes its muscle.
While the health-care system in America needs to be reformed, Franciscan and Ave Maria’s decision to drop student health-care plans offers just one example of how Obamacare is not the answer. Rather than reforming the system, it is deforming it. Step by step, regulation by regulation, the authors of Obamacare are bent upon creating a monolithic government-controlled system that will eventually take on a life of its own.
It’s just another reminder of why Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced.