Will the Senate throw a Hobby Lobby tantrum?

“We’ll show that mean ol’ Supreme Court!” (Pixabay photo)

The New Hampshire Senate will vote Thursday on a measure designed to shame employers who choose not to play any role in providing contraception to employees. [Note: on March 5, the Senate voted to table the bill.] Senators David Pierce (D-Lebanon) and Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth) want to make sure the world knows how displeased they are by the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, and SB 42 is their megaphone. They need only eleven of their Senate colleagues to join them in order to send the bill over to the House. The Commerce committee has already approved the bill on a 4-1 vote.

The bill has been amended since its introduction, but its essence is intact. If it passes, any employer who wants to provide health insurance as an employee benefit via a self-funded health plan, but who refuses to cover any or all forms of contraception, has to put that refusal in writing on job applications, or include it as a separate notice to be handed out with each application.

Not with each new-hire human resources package – but with each job application. Keeping employers disentangled from employees’ birth control decisions is simply an unacceptable concept to Senators Pierce and Fuller Clark. Apparently, they are not equally offended by insurance plans that fail to cover cancer treatments, or drugs to manage chronic conditions, or therapy for disabled children, or the cost of your bifocals. You might think that applicants ought to be advised of those exclusions in writing before filling out a job application. But no; the only health insurance information Senators Pierce and Clark want to see “prominently displayed” on job applications is a warning that a boss won’t pay for your birth control. Remember that the owners of Hobby Lobby claimed (and won) the right to refuse coverage for only four particular contraceptive methods, all of them abortion-inducing. They apparently cover about sixteen other methods without objection. That’s not enough for the likes of the sponsors of SB 42, who want to marginalize employers who demur even slightly from paying for employees’ birth control decisions. A “Catholic Citizenship News” email from the Diocese of Manchester (N.H.) this weekend took a tone far calmer than the bill deserves. “SB 42’s stated intent is to require employers to specify the details of contraceptive coverage to prospective employees, but based upon the text of the bill and testimony at the hearing, this measure clearly targets employers with religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage.” I was at the hearing, and I can vouch for that. The diocesan email continues:  “…[I]f SB 42 becomes law, when individuals apply for jobs with Catholic parishes, schools, or institutions in New Hampshire, their first introduction to our ministries will be a ‘prominently displayed’ notice that the diocesan insurance plan does not cover contraception or abortifacients. As a State, we have been reluctant to place restrictions on employers requiring these types of burdens – additional paperwork or particular forms at the time of hire. It is troubling that SB 42 would create this first mandate that is clearly aimed at employers that decline to offer coverage that includes abortion or other life-denying drugs or devices that violate their moral and religious convictions.” Troubling? That’s one way to put it.


Who’s Your Senator?

Earlier coverage of SB 42: Busy Day in Concord

House committees give thumbs down to funding, conscience bills

The New Hampshire House will vote on a pair of pro-life bills Wednesday (2/18/15) that received inexpedient-to-legislate votes in committee. One involves keeping tax dollars away from abortion providers; the other would provide legal protection to health care workers who refuse to participate in abortion or any other procedure to which they conscientiously object.

Anyone who thinks the NHGOP is a pro-life party needs to pay attention to this.

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 The funding bill, HB 677,at least got a minority report. Rep. Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford) of the Judiciary committee summed it up neatly: “The minority believes public funds going to these organizations indirectly supports abortions violating the conscience rights of taxpayers.” Two of his fellow committee members agreed with him; fourteen didn’t. The majority report was written by Republican Charlene Takesian of Pelham. You may recall that during the House hearing on the buffer zone bill last year, Rep. Takesian suggested that handing a leaflet to a woman could be an act of violence.

The conscience bill, HB 670, fared worse, getting a unanimous inexpedient-to-legislate vote in the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee. No minority, so no minority report. Yet another Republican, John Fothergill of Colebrook, stepped up to write the committee report, quoted in full here:

The intent of the bill is to protect the right of all healthcare providers, healthcare institutions and health care payers. The committee felt the protection offered was too broad involving individuals as well as institutions. Most professional groups have a code of ethics which provide guidelines to address conscientious objection and offer a better balance between patient rights and provider rights. Finally, the committee did not feel the bill adequately protects the employer.

Without a minority report, the conscience bill goes on the consent calendar, where it will be lumped in with other unanimously-reported bills that will be voted on in one bloc. No one will point out that rejecting this bill means that coercing people to participate in abortion remains perfectly legal in New Hampshire.

“The committee did not feel the bill adequately protects the employer.” Let that one resonate for awhile. Check your consciences at the office door, folks.

Both of the committee majority votes were bipartisan. Quick – which party has the pro-life platform? No one can tell from these votes.

Surely anyone who ran on a pro-life platform should defend conscience rights. Surely anyone who claims to be pro-choice should respect the choice not to facilitate abortions. That’s not what happened in committee, though, and that doesn’t augur well for next Wednesday’s results.


What are you doing for health insurance?

Photo: office.com
Photo: office.com

Not a blogging day, except to rant. It’s health-insurance-shopping time. (We’ve all gotten past the keep-your-plan lie, right?)

I want to have some kind of coverage, to insulate my family from possible catastrophic medical costs. I want to avoid Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. Make that I want to spit in the mandate’s eye. I don’t want to participate in a program that funds elective abortions – and yes, Obamacare funds abortions. I haven’t forgotten September’s Government Accountability Office report.

My choices, as far as I can tell, are these:

  • Buy a plan on the exchange, and cross my fingers that my money isn’t used to pay for someone else’s abortion. There’s no state law here to keep that from happening.
  • Go without insurance and pay the piddling fine. That’s appealing given my income level, but it leaves my family too exposed to catastrophic costs. Also, paying the fine grants a little too much to Caesar, although I’m aware that’s not a settled point among my co-religionists.
  • Enter a health care cost-sharing program like CURO from Christ Medicus. Would I qualify? Can I afford a program that doesn’t cover a pre-existing condition? Of course, in view of the high deductible I’m paying under my current coverage (thanks again, Obamacare), cost-sharing may still be the economically sensible thing to do. It is absolutely the way to go to be sure my health care dollars don’t go to abortion.

This should be a simple matter of dollars and cents, but it’s not. I live in a country where divesting oneself from the abortion industry is becoming well-nigh impossible. I’m going to keep trying.

End of rant. Back to crunching the numbers and discerning the best course.

Readers, what are your thoughts as open enrollment time approaches?

Business hours? Just chillin’.

Once in force – meaning as soon as Governor Hassan signs it – New Hampshire’s buffer zone law will put “up to 25 feet” between abortion facilities and people who wish to give silent, prayerful witness against the carnage.

The zone will only apply during business hours, according to the soon-to-be law. So what are the business hours?

Are they hours posted on the door of an abortion facility? If so, prolifers won’t be able to read them, since they can’t approach the facility unless they’re heading inside as an employer, client, contractor, or public employee such as a police officer.

Are they hours posted online? What if a pro-life witness comes in good faith to stand within 25 feet of the facility, only to discover that the hours posted online have changed? Written warning, I suppose – and any subsequent infringement, whether it’s five minutes or five years away, would mean a citation and a minimum $100 fine.

What if a facility stays open late or opens earlier than usual for some reason – a patient needing extra time, for instance? How will anyone know that there’s “business” being conducted?

We already know that the size of a particular zone will be up to the individual abortion facility. Sounds like hours of zone enforcement will be up each facility, too, in the absence of clear posting of hours on the outside of a facility, visible from the edge of the “buffer.”

Of course, every business controls its own hours. That’s as it should be. The trouble with applying that to a buffer zone law: now, selected businesses will be able to control access to public property at all hours, simply by announcing that “business” is going on, even retroactively. A pro-life witness present in good faith outside a facility, thinking she’s legal because it’s after hours, could find herself cited. All it would take is an abortion facility employee calling the police to claim that “business” was being conducted at the time the witness was present.

“So stay 25 feet away 24/7,” someone might say.

That’s what’s known as a chilling effect.

Three indications Obamacare is NOT about to fall apart

I haven’t made a secret of the fact that I am not a fan of Obamacare. I have to admit that I take a grim pleasure in the news about the administrative foul-ups that have complicated the “rollout.”

I am skeptical that any complication or delay will lead to substantive changes in the misnamed “Affordable Care Act.” Even the current tinkering with the individual mandate doesn’t make me feel much better. The Administration’s #1 concern seems to be that the public is having trouble with the web site. What happens once the web site is up and running? ACA implementation will proceed apace. Obamacare as we know it is perfectly safe. Here are three reasons I’m not breaking out the champagne over ACA glitches.

Kathleen Sebelius is still Secretary of HHS.

As long as Secretary Sebelius holds down her Health and Human Services job, we know the Administration is not having second thoughts about Obamacare. Sebelius has been the second-biggest advocate, cheerleader, and apologist for the program since the day Nancy Pelosi brought down her gavel and jubilantly announced “The bill is passed!” President Obama and Sebelius are the faces of the ACA.

If she were to leave her post during this President’s tenure, it would look as though the ACA were a dead horse she got tired of beating. If Obama were to let Sebelius go, he’d be acknowledging substantive trouble with his pet law. As long as he keeps her, he shows confidence in the legislation.

The White House is still saying birth control is “essential to women’s health care” and is still telling Americans how to practice religious beliefs.

In a White House statement issued last month after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take the Hobby Lobby case, the press secretary speaking for the Administration affirmed “The health care law puts women and families in control of their health care by covering vital preventive care, like cancer screenings and birth control, free of charge [emphasis added]….The Administration has already acted to ensure no church or similar religious institution will be forced to provide contraception coverage and has made a commonsense accommodation for non-profit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds.  These steps protect both women’s health and religious beliefs, and seek to ensure that women and families–not their bosses or corporate CEOs–can make personal health decisions based on their needs and their budgets.”

Consumer control of health care decisions means no co-pay? I haven’t seen any comparable White House statement about how awful it is that bosses or corporate CEOs make personal health decisions for families by denying 100% coverage of diabetes regulation – which is after all preventive in a logical if not political sense, given how uncontrolled diabetes destroys health. If giving women and families full control of health decisions means not having any co-pays for birth control, how can ANY co-pay stand under law?

So suppression of fertility is still the same thing as cancer screening in the eyes of the Obama Administration. Women’s fertility, that is. Once that falsehood is abandoned by the President and a majority in Congress, Obamacare will lose one of its essential supports.

The White House continues to say that “commensense accommodation” has rendered all religious challenges to the ACA moot. More than eighty pending lawsuits say otherwise. “Religious organizations” as defined by the Administration are accommodated. Individuals holding to the same religious tenets as those organizations are not. That’s the trouble with the HHS mandate.

Republicans in Congress have not as a majority body expended political capital to challenge the mandate, and Democrats are only too happy to elevate contraception above the Constitution. That means the HHS mandate will stand, unless the Supreme Court throws it out. As long as the mandate stands, so does Obamacare.

Lack of cybersecurity hasn’t brought Obamacare to a screeching halt.

There’s no one left in a Cabinet-level Administration post who can say with a straight face that the information Americans enter into a computer in order to sign up for the ACA is secure. Privacy is not a serious consideration within the law, nor has it ever been. Once that changes, I’ll know Obamacare is in trouble – because that will mean a full stop to the law while the technical side is re-developed.

John Fund in a recent column summarized how HHS addressed security concerns in Obamacare’s early days, based on the Federal Register from March 27, 2012: “At that meeting, two commenters asked HHS to ensure the exchanges would promptly notify affected enrollees in the event of a data breach or unauthorized access to the exchange’s databases. One commenter suggested that a full investigation be launched each time such a breach occurred, with the goal of holding hackers legally and financially accountable for breaking into the website. According to a report by the group Watchdog.org, HHS responded: ‘We do not plan to include the specific notification procedures in the final rule. Consistent with this approach, we do not include specific policies for investigation of data breaches in this final rule.’ In other words, the government doesn’t have to tell you about a security breach unless it decides it wants to — despite the fact that private companies are required to publicly disclose any incidents. State laws also require many of the 14 state-run insurance exchanges to disclose such information, but no such law exists for the federally run exchange, which 36 states rely upon.”

Imagine a private company being so cavalier about data breaches. A recent breach at Target stores resulted in quick detection and immediate efforts to warn consumers. If the company had been any slower to react, Target’s CEO would be getting grilled in Washington right now, with cameras rolling and politicians thundering about the evils of Big Business. Corporate heads would roll. The same behavior in a government agency doesn’t bring forth quite the same reaction.

And by the way …

Don’t confuse ACA implementation with health care. What kind of metric have you heard of that HHS might use to measure outcomes from ACA? Will we know in five years how many people have coverage, compared to today?

Probably not. The baseline the government will use to measure coverage will probably be how many people had ACA-compliant policies before the ACA was in place. Wonderful. We’ll have a meaningless statistic that will keep us in the dark about the only health-coverage question that ought to matter to HHS: how many Americans are getting CARE? Not insurance coverage, but actual care. Not how many dollars we’re spending on Medicaid and insurance subsidies, but how many people need health care and aren’t getting it.

Will Americans be healthier in five years, or will they just be filling out different forms at their clinics?

Obamacare seems to be set up to keep that information obscured. Insurance equals care, goes the narrative, and actual care is not what we’re tracking here.

The rumors of Obamacare’s death are greatly exaggerated, it seems to me. When Sebelius is out, the HHS mandate is gone, and web site security becomes a priority, I might take a different view. Until then, regardless of controversies, Obamacare is entrenched.