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N.Y. Archdiocese Funds Health Plan That Covers Contraception as Bishops Fight Federal Rules

N.Y. Archdiocese Funds Health Plan That Covers Contraception as Bishops Fight Federal Rules

May 28, 2013 — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has been indirectly providing contraceptive and abortion coverage to thousands of unionized employees for over a decade, even as it pursues a lawsuit challenging federal rules that require its health plans to cover birth control, the New York Times reports (Otterman, New York Times, 5/26).

The federal contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require that most health plans cover contraceptive services without copayments or other added costs. Religious entities such as churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirements.

In February, the Obama administration proposed an accommodation for other religiously affiliated employers that would ensure they do not have to pay for contraceptive coverage, but their health plans must provide it directly to beneficiaries at no cost. The accommodation was not extended to for-profit businesses (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/22).

In December, a U.S. District Judge ruled that the N.Y. Archdiocese and two other Catholic groups may proceed with a lawsuit challenging the federal rules (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/6/12).

Details of N.Y. Coverage

The archdiocese offers about 3,000 full-time employees at ArchCare -- also known as the Catholic Health Care System -- coverage for contraception and abortion through their membership in a health care workers' union called 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, according to David Bates, a spokesperson for the union.

ArchCare offers the same health insurance coverage that union employees would receive at more than 100 other not-for-profit hospitals and nursing homes in the New York area because the system is a member of the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes, a multi-employer organization that negotiates with the union every few years for a joint labor contract. The employers do not directly pay for coverage; instead, they pay the union's National Benefits Fund in amounts equal to about 25% of each employee's base pay and those funds are then used to purchase the insurance.

According to the Times, in theory, ArchCare could have negotiated with the union to avoid covering the disputed services, in much the same way it has avoided offering those services for another 1,100 ArchCare employees by covering them through a self-insurance plan that is exempt from a 2002 state mandate requiring companies offer contraception.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan -- head of the Archdiocese of New York and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- has steadfastly rejected similar "arm's-length" arrangements offered by the Obama administration, including the current proposal to allow insurers to provide for the coverage directly, according to the New York Times.

Archdiocese, LVHH President Comment

Joseph Zwilling -- a spokesperson for the New York archdiocese -- said it "provide[s] the services under protest." He said that Cardinal John O'Connor objected to the coverage when ArchCare considered joining LVHH in the 1990s, but the cardinal then realized that "there was no other option if the Catholic Church was to continue to provide health care to these union-affiliated employees."

LVHH President Bruce McIver said that while some Catholic institutions expressed concern about the coverage in the mid- to late-1990s, "they just kind of stopped, from my perspective, paying attention to the issue." He explained that "the Catholics just said, you know, we are going to ignore the issue and pay into the fund and people are going to make their own choices about contraception and so forth."

According to the Times, some for-profit businesses challenging the federal contraceptive coverage rules also were until recently paying for contraception and abortion coverage (New York Times, 5/26).