Author Archives: catholicwatcher

Federal Judge Ruling on Catholic Pension Funding Requirements Raises More Questions

Catholic health care systems are now able to operate pension funds free of federal funding requirements, according to a rulling handed down December 8 by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

According to a Bloomberg news report, Judge Robert E. Blackburn wrote that a plan can be a church plan “in one of two ways – by being established and maintained by a church or association of churches, or by being maintained by a qualifying organization that is controlled by or associated with a church.”

The practical implication of the ruling is that Catholic health care ministries now have a distinct competitive advantage over other non-Church health care entities that are required to meet federal pension funding requirements.

What’s more interesting is to consider the written decision in the context of other issues that apply in a health care context.

In the decision, Blackburn said that “the Catholic Church itself (not unlike other established religions) is a huge conglomerate that operates in various forms and formats, including corporate ones.”

Later, he also said that “regardless of the personal convictions of any single employee, both CHI and the DB Plan Subcommittee are animated by and bound by Catholic doctrines in the performance of their duties.”

Furthermore, he says, The “First Amendment creates a protected zone for churches to decide these issues of religious [*11] doctrine free from government intrusion. This protected zone includes: (1) a church’s law and doctrine; (2) a church’s religious mission; and (3) a church’s polity, administration, and community. . . . The First Amendment “plainly forbids” courts from inquiring into this departure-from-doctrine claim.”

Then, in a discussion of whether or not a First Amendment challenge would survive, he cites the three-pronged “Lemon test,” and makes the following points:

  1.  For a law to have forbidden “effects” under Lemon, it must be fair to say that the government itself has advanced religion through its own activities and influence.”
  2. A principle (of Lemon) is violated “when accommodation of a religious practice or principle imposes burdens on non-adherents they would not otherwise be required to bear.”
  3. The third and final prong of Lemon inquires whether a statute requires “excessive government involvement in religious affairs, including whether such involvement is a continuing one leading to an impermissible degree of entanglement”.

We need to consider these issues in the context of health care itself and and especially when public funds are being used (sometimes exclusively) to fund services that are then restricted by doctrine.

Is a government contract that turns over 97% of all public funding available for a 50-year period to a Church entity “advancing religion through its own activities and influence”?

Is it a violation of Lemon when a Church entity that receives government funding imposes restrictions on patients and physicians who have no other practical options?

And how do we resolve these issues without entangling government in doctrine, especially when the essence of Catholic doctrine in a health care setting is all about how health care services – which are heavily regulated – will be delivered?

One answer might be that no federal or state funding should be allowed for the delivery of any health service that is governed by religious doctrine.

And for any of these discussions, one needs to consider what will happen when the State is called upon to fund services through religious entities that are small in number now but likely to grow.  For example, should a Muslim health system that treats diabetics receive government funding if patients are required to fast during Ramadan?  Should they received government funding if women are not allowed to be seen by male physicians or if women physicians are not allowed to see male patients?  And who should make the decisions?  Physicians? Clerics?

According to Beckers’, seven or the ten largest nonprofit health care systems are Catholic.  The long-term implications of encouraging and supporting even more government funded, religiously-based health care institutions are not well understood.  But we all need to be paying attention.


Why the Walgreens Providence Alliance is Very, Very Bad News

Recently the Seattle Times reported that nineteen groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, had signed a letter asking questions about a new deal under which Providence Health Systems would provide health services in Walgreen clinics.

What was not included in that report is the fact that Walgreens recently announced that it is taking over Rite-Aid in an all-cash deal worth more than $17 billion, a deal which would make it the largest pharmacy in the country.

So now we have the largest pharmacy chain in the country linking up with a Catholic health care ministry that systematically deprives patients of medically appropriate services, including contraception.

What could go wrong?

There are more than 130 Rite-Aid stores in Washington State, which is also home to the highest percentage of health systems under Catholic ownership/control.

A linkage between the hundreds of Walgreen/Rite-Aid pharmacies in Washington State and Providence Health, which follows the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, has potential to dramatically limit access to legal, medically appropriate care.

Who will stand up to protect patients and physicians from the increasing power of religiously-directed health care ministries and their expansion into pharmacy-based services?



When Catholic Bishops Act Like CEOs

According to the National Catholic Reporter, New Jersey’s Catholic bishops have weighed in “on a growing concern over a new health insurance plan introduced by the state’s largest insurer.”

The full story is available here.

Of course, what’s fascinating about this story is that the Bishops are weighing in on a business issue and seeking the help of the courts to advance their claim that they’re somehow being discriminated against.  They claim they are religious leaders when it suits them but they act like businessmen when an adverse business decision threatens their bottom line.

According to the article, the Catholic Health Care Partnership is a statewide coalition established by the leaders of Catholic health systems “to advance their ministry and mission” and members of the partnership are specifically claiming that they are facing discrimination against Catholics by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

What is missing from the discussion is any mention that Catholic hospitals actually provide less charity care than other nonprofit hospitals and actively discriminate against the rights of patients who want access to legal, medically appropriate medical services, including tubal ligations.

Just this month, in California, the American Civil Liberties Union has threatened to sue if a local Catholic hospital continues to deny tubal ligations in violation of California state law.

I hope journalists will keep an eye on both New Jersey and California as these cases unfold.





Dignity Health Faces Lawsuit Over Refusal to Perform Tubal Ligations

The Fresno Bee reports that Dignity Health, a Catholic health care ministry, is facing a lawsuit over its refusal to provide contraceptive surgeries.

According to the article, the American Civil Liberties Union has written a letter stating that “Refusing to allow doctors to perform postpartum tubal ligations denies patients pregnancy-related care, and as such, constitutes sexual discrimination.”

The ACLU is threatening to sue if the hospital doesn’t act by Wednesday.

For more, read the original article here.

Seattle Times: Washington Doesn’t Value Women’s Health Care Enough

Seattle Times editorial columnist Thanh Tan has written an important op-ed about the vulnerable state of women’s health care in Washington State.  Across the state, too few people understand that women are being denied appropriate care, even while actively miscarrying.

As Tan writes:

“The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington has documented situations where women suffering miscarriages or nonviable pregnancies were denied abortions or the care was delayed.

“I get why Catholic-run hospitals are opposed to terminating pregnancies. However, when publicly owned hospitals run by Catholic organizations or a community’s only hospital refuse to provide or refer for a legal procedure, that crosses a line.”

Tan also calls on public hospital districts to comply with Washington’s Reproductive Privacy Act.

The View from the Clergy – An Important Perspective

An important new article from ThinkProgress on the role clergy can play in making sure we all have access to the healthcare we need.

The Catholic woman who says she’s “pro-life,” yet had an abortion is not atypical.  As the article points out, more women who describe theselves as religious have abortions than women who describes themselves as nonreligious.

Through it all, people who support reproductive health services will continue to work hard to protect every woman’s right to make this decision privately and in consultation with physicians they trust.



PeaceHealth and Providence Join Forces

PeaceHealth and Providence have announced they’ve signed a letter of intent “to jointly develop innovative ways to provide health and wellness services in communities they serve.”

The is the first major move by new PeaceHealth CEO Liz Dunne, who joined PeaceHealth from Providence.  Regulators have not yet weighed in, so it’s unknown whether the joint initiatives will face regulatory and/or anti-trust scrutiny.

“As Catholic health care organizations with similar heritages, Providence and PeaceHealth are uniquely suited to succeed together in collaborative ventures like this.”–service-announce-plans-to-work-jointly-on-health-initiatives.html.csp

Providence is the third largest nonprofit health system in the country.

According to the press release, “Providence and PeaceHealth will continue to work together to further define their collaborative efforts.”

The Nation: Catholic Hospitals Deny Patients Death with Dignity

The Nation recently posted important new article on Death with Dignity and how Catholic health care ministries are denying terminally ill patients information and referrals for help.  Quoted are physicians from Oregon and Washington, including a physician who currently works at PeaceHealth.