Obamacare

Washington Post ignores a crucial fact, as HHS mandate cases head to high court

Washington Post ignores a crucial fact, as HHS mandate cases head to high court

The other day, I wrote a post that ran under this long and, I admit, rather scary headline: "Wait! Did The New York Times just argue that voluntary religious associations are dangerous?"

The piece was part of a Times series called "Beware the Fine Print." As I stressed in my post, the reporting in this feature raised interesting, valid questions about "Christian arbitration" clauses in legal contracts, especially those linked to businesses -- as opposed to doctrinally defined schools, ministries and other faith-based nonprofits.

However, several of the case studies in this story suggested that its thesis was that it's dangerous, period, when religious groups create doctrinal covenants that define the boundaries of their voluntary associations.

This is, of course, a First Amendment issue that looms over one of last week's biggest stories, which is the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (also known, among its critics, as Obamacare) that is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The key question: Can religiously affiliated schools, hospitals, charities and other nonprofit ministries be forced by the government into cooperating with acts that violate the doctrines that define their work and the traditions of their faith communities? Should the government actively back the efforts of employees (and other members of these voluntary associations, such as students) to break the contracts and doctrinal covenants that they chose to sign? Again, do Christian colleges have to cooperate in helping their own students and employees violate the covenants that they signed in order to join these faith-based communities? Do the Little Sisters of the Poor need to help their own employees violate the teachings of the Catholic Church?

Flip things around: Try to imagine the government forcing an Episcopal seminary to fund, oh, reparative therapy sessions for a gay student or employee who wanted to modify his sexual behaviors? Why force the seminary to violate its own doctrines?

This leads me to an interesting chunk or two of a Washington Post report about the Health & Human Services mandate cases that will soon be debated at the high court.

Here's the problem. The story never mentions the fact that many of these institutions require employees (and students) to sign doctrinal and/or lifestyle covenants affirming -- or at the very least, promising not to publicly oppose -- the faith traditions on which their work is based.

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New York Times (reluctantly) admits that 'some' courts are backing HHS mandate

New York Times (reluctantly) admits that 'some' courts are backing HHS mandate

As you GetReligionistas have repeatedly stressed in recent years, the battles over the Health and Human Services contraceptives mandate is not a simple story involving two levels of conflict, with churches and religious groups being granted an clear exemption and for-profit corporations over on the losing side of the religious-liberty equation.

As this battle has continued in the courts, things have only grown more complex -- both for the Obama White House and the journalists who cover it.

For starters, there was that whole Hobby Lobby ruling and the fine-tuning in the regulations that has taken place since then. Meanwhile, the really interesting legal wars have focused on doctrinally-defined schools, ministries and parachurch groups that are caught in the middle. This is where things get really complicated and, frankly, many journalists do not seem to understand what all of the fuss is about.

In news reports, journalists continue to describe a wave of court victories for the White House -- while having to admit that there are religious groups who don't see things that way. A new story in The New York Times offers a classic example of this struggle to frame the debate:

WASHINGTON -- Four federal appeals courts have upheld efforts by the Obama administration to guarantee access to free birth control for women, suggesting that the government may have found a way to circumvent religious organizations that refuse to provide coverage for some or all forms of contraception.
While pleased with the rulings, administration officials are not celebrating.

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Seattle Times scores a winner in piece on Christian health-share ministries

Seattle Times scores a winner in piece on Christian health-share ministries

There aren’t many religion writers in the Pacific Northwest these days and that's a shame.

For example, The Seattle Times apparently hasn’t had one since Janet Tu left the beat several years ago. If something breaks like last year’s ouster of Mark Driscoll -- then-pastor of Mars Hill, Seattle’s largest church at the time -- the newsroom has to pull reporters from other beats to cover it.

So it was a surprise to see this story leading their web site Sunday on Medi-Share and two other Christian “health-sharing ministries” that act quasi-health insurers for lots of Washington state residents.

When Melissa Mira suffered sudden heart failure at the end of her second pregnancy last year, she worried first about her health and her baby -- then about the more than $200,000 in medical bills that began rolling in.
“Your world is just crashing down around you and you wonder: ‘How is this going to be covered?’ ” recalled Mira, 30, who spent more than a month away from her Tacoma home, hospitalized at the University of Washington Medical Center.
For Mira and her family, the answer came not through traditional health insurance, but through faith that fellow Christians would step forward to pay the bills.
The Miras -- including daughter Jael, 4, and baby Sienna Rain, now a healthy 9-month-old -- are among the growing numbers of people looking to “health care-sharing ministries” across the U.S. At last count, there were more than 10,000 members in Washington state and nearly 400,000 nationwide, individuals and families whose medical costs are taken care of entirely through the organized goodwill -- and monthly payments or “shares” -- of like-minded religious followers.

The writer is the newspaper’s health reporter and the tone is informative and respectful. It’s kind of sad when it’s unusual to find a piece in the secular media about religious practices that have no snark attached.

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'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

Good stories lurk in ideology-driven magazines and web sites on the religion beat, perhaps more so than with other fields.

For example, there’s often useful fare blended with the partisanship of Church & State, monthly house organ of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This lobby and litigator closely monitors those it assails as “far-right religious conservatives,” provides some useful information and is always happy to brief reporters on its side of an issue.

Consider, for example, the cover story in Church & State’s current issue, “New Congress, New Challenges,” by assistant communications director Simon Brown. Republicans rode to victory on “fundamentalist support,” he says, so “2015 could be a cataclysmic year for church-state separation.” 

Stripped of the tendentious rhetoric and alarmism, Brown assembles some good tips.  As he observes, during the next two years the Republican-run Congress may revive hot-button religion bills that previously died in committee or passed  the G.O.P House but not the Democratic Senate. They would:

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Pro-abortion bias in news story on Catholic universities? Well, duh

Pro-abortion bias in news story on Catholic universities? Well, duh

"Biased much?" asked a reader who passed along a link to a San Francisco Chronicle story on two Catholic universities limiting employees' abortion coverage.

You mean the fact that the news report is slanted — from the very top — toward the abortion-rights point of view and leans heavily in that side's favor in the amount of ink given to direct quotes?

OK, maybe you have a point, dear reader.

Pro-abortion bias seeping into mainstream media reports is not exactly breaking news, of course. But the Chronicle makes a noble effort at perfecting the craft.

The lede sets the stage:

California has some of the nation's strongest protections for abortion rights. But the recent decisions by two Catholic universities, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount, to eliminate most abortion insurance coverage for their employees were cleared in advance by state agencies.
Now Gov. Jerry Brown's administration is taking another look.
The state Department of Managed Health Care is conducting "an in-depth analysis of the issues surrounding coverage for abortion services under California law," said Marta Green, the department's chief deputy director.
What the department is reconsidering, as first reported by California Lawyer magazine, is whether the universities are violating a 1975 state law that requires managed health plans to cover all "medically necessary" procedures.

 

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These Christians have found a way around Obamacare, but is it a good deal?

These Christians have found a way around Obamacare, but is it a good deal?

Nice lede. Interesting subject matter. Variety of sources.

I enjoyed a recent San Jose Mercury News feature on health care sharing ministries. (Hat tip to the Pew Research Center's daily religion headlines email for highlighting the story this week.)

Let's start at the top:

Go to church, be faithful to your spouse and shun tobacco, booze and drugs.

Promising to adhere to that "biblical lifestyle," more than 300,000 Americans are taking advantage of a little-known provision in the nation's health care law that allows them to avoid the new penalties for not having health insurance.

Long before Christian groups and Obamacare opponents cheered last month's Supreme Court ruling that allows many private businesses to stop offering certain types of birth control they find immoral, the 4-year-old law gave its blessing to Americans to opt out of the insurance mandate if they object on religious grounds.

So many instead are enrolling in "health care sharing ministries" that spread medical care costs among people of similar beliefs. Participants make monthly contributions to help cover each other's major health care costs, but forgo coverage for most routine care.

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How NOT to cover the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case

Hey @GetReligion, read the fear-filled, one-sided piece in @Forbes re: what will happen if @HobbyLobbyStore prevails: http://t.co/O47OaXrg6m @MattBranaugh Are you suggesting there is more than one side to this story?

@GetReligion Surprising, I know. According to this piece, everyone already agrees the government is right and Hobby Lobby is wrong.

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly anticipated ruling in the Hobby Lobby case expected as soon as today, Forbes offers a perfect example of how not to cover the decision.

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Politico's long-but-shallow exposé on Hobby Lobby family

Politico has a breathless, 2,200-word profile of the Greens — the Hobby Lobby family — out this week with this sensational headline: Hobby Lobby aims for Obamacare win, Christian nation

In one sense, it’s a long piece seemingly designed to expose the Greens’ desire to promote the Bible as truth. At the same time — despite its length — the report ends up feeling rather shallow in the true depth it provides.

Like a child playing with a water gun on a hot summer day, Politico attempts to cover a lot of territory. But nothing really seems to stick in this game of journalistic hopscotch.

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They didn't even agree on what they disagreed on

Can you have a meeting of minds when you don’t agree on what you discussed — and neither do news media? President Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time on Thursday, nearly all of it behind closed doors. And their post-meeting statements were so different, they were the focus of some media reports — though the reports themselves didn’t always match.

Here’s a close look at the mismatch between media from different U.S. coasts: CNN and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The habitually pro-Barack CNN produced friendly coverage, starting with the traditional exchange of gifts between the heads of state. In the short video clip, above, clicking cameras drowned out nearly everything except “It’s a great honor” and “I’m a great admirer.”

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