At some point, journalists need to stop and ask the following question: Is there any part of the Affordable Care Act that doesn't raise moral and legal questions for the leaders of hospitals operated by religious groups?
What about religious believers who are doctors, nurses, medical technicians or administrators? I think we'll need to deal with that hot-button religious liberty issue another day.
Right now, let's just say that I was amazed at the lack of mainstream news coverage of a recent Health and Human Services announcement about the impact of the White House's gender identity initiatives on medical care. (Click here for the actual document.) Maybe this important story got buried under the tsunami of coverage of government guidelines affecting how public schools handle transgender issues at the level of showers, locker rooms, bathrooms, etc.
Did this HHS announcement have implications for journalists who cover religion?
Apparently not. Here is the top of the short story that ran at USA Today. I missed this story in my early searches for mainstream coverage.
Insurers and hospitals can't discriminate against patients because of their gender identity under the Affordable Care Act, federal officials said Friday, but patient groups complained the rule doesn't go far enough.
The Department of Health and Human Services finalized a rule that prohibited discrimination in health care based on a long list of characteristics ranging from race to pregnancy, gender identity and "sex stereotyping."
It doesn't mean insurers have to cover all treatments associated with gender transitioning but they just can't outright deny them either. But the rule doesn't go far enough in clarifying what is discrimination, some say.
In the final sentence, the story notes:
The law applies to health insurers, hospitals, and health plans administered by or receiving federal funds from HHS.
A report at Time magazine went a bit further, when it came to practical questions, such as: How do medical personnel and insurers respond, for example, to a woman with prostate issues? How about a man with ovarian cancer?
But, once again, there was zippo when it came to questions about the impact of these rules on faith-based medical institutions or programs. Here is a key chunk of that story:
The Department of Health and Human Services announced ... the finalization of the Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities rule, a part of the Affordable Care Act’s Section 1557. The rule forbids health care providers who take funding from the HHS from denying health care based on gender identity or denying patients treatment for sex-specific ailments like ovarian or prostate cancer simply because an individual identifies as a different sex. ...
A 2010 national survey found that 19% of trans men and women were refused services because of their gender identity, 28% said they had been harassed in medical settings, and half said they had to teach their health care provider about caring for transgender people.
So what is missing from these short news reports?
Let me answer by asking this basic question: How many Roman Catholic hospitals are there in the United States?
Journalists can answer that question with one or two clicks. The Catholic Health Association of the United States reports that there are more than 600 Catholic hospitals and 1,400 long-term care other health facilities, with facilities in all 50 states.
How many Baptist hospitals are there? Methodist or Lutheran hospitals? How many of them retain strong ties to doctrinally conservative religious groups? These are harder questions to answer at the national level, but it's still easy for reporters to find out what is happening at the local level.
So, journalists, might this Obamacare announcement cause tensions, if not conflicts, with faith-based medical providers and institutions?
Apparently, only "conservative news" operations found that question relevant, as one can see by doing an online search for these terms -- "Catholic, hospitals, Obamacare, funding, transgender." For example, The Federalist got the key religion hook into the second paragraph of its report:
President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services implemented a rule change to the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) ... mandating that all health providers receiving taxpayer dollars must perform sex-change operations or lose their federal funding.
The final rule states that, under Title IX, any hospital receiving funding from HHS must “treat individuals consistent with their gender identity.” The rule provides no religious exemption. In other words, religious hospitals that receive taxpayer dollars via Medicaid or Medicare will be required to perform sex-change operations or get cut off financially.
The key statement, of course, is this one -- "The rule provides no religious exemption."
Might this cause some problems for faith-based medical ministries and institutions? You think?
In pondering that issue, please consider this relevant quotation from Pope Francis, drawn from the encyclical "Laudato Si":
"The acceptance of our bodies as God's gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation."
So was there a religion ghost in these HHS rules? You think?