Should Employers Be Concerned About HHS' Decision Regarding Religious Institutions?

3/2/12

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently announced her decision that a number of religious organizations must provide contraceptive services (including sterilization and abortifacients) regardless of whether or not it violates their consciences. Business leaders may have seen the ensuing vehement reaction from the religious community as irrelevant to them, partly because it was more a religious freedom issue and partly because it would not change their health insurance plans. However, I would suggest a more appropriate reaction would be that of actress Geena Davis in the modern version of the movie "The Fly" when she says "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

Two of the many characteristics of the Patient and Affordable Care Act are the facts that (a) the government requires every citizen to buy a product, and (b) it then determines the composition of that product (albeit only the minimum standard). In the determination of (b), congress seemingly granted unlimited authority to a single bureaucrat, the Secretary of Health and Human Services. What became patently obvious in this determination was that preferred interest groups such as Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) exerted great influence on the Secretary's (and administration's) decision under the guise of "women's rights" and "women's health."

Let me be clear. I am not taking a position regarding the content of the decision (including contraception as part of required health insurance plans), but rather the process. So what happens if the American Association of Chiropractors next gets the Secretary's ear with the idea that chiropractic care must be covered? And then seeing that success, what would stop the National Society of Acupuncturists, the United Association of Massage Therapists, or heck, even the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association from lobbying for their respective services to be covered as part of preventative services? At some point, these unilateral decisions will come to bite employers on the backside, sending their health insurance costs spiraling.

In describing the inactivity of intellectuals during the rise of the Nazi's in Germany, Theologian Martin Niemöller wrote:

"First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Business leaders would do well to recognize that while they may not have a dog in this current fight, with each successive victory, the government's dog becomes increasingly difficult to beat. And that will not bode well for them when it's their dog's turn to fight.