Consumer Power Report: Obama Administration Tramples on Religious Freedom

Published January 30, 2012

Throughout the country on Sunday, Catholics were read letters by bishops and priests protesting the latest rule handed down from on high by the Obama administration – a rule that will unquestionably restrict their ability to continue to provide insurance coverage and health care to non-Catholics without running afoul of their religious beliefs. Reuters has this report:

On Jan 20, the Obama administration made final a proposal requiring most employer-sponsored health plans to offer women contraceptive services including sterilization without copays, co-insurance or deductibles.

Religious authorities including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned the rule as a violation of religious conscience and the constitutional right to religious freedom.

In an organized protest, numerous local media reported on Sunday that Catholic clergy read out letters of protest [during] Mass.

“We cannot, we will not, comply with this unjust law,” wrote Phoenix bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in one such letter, adding that the rule was an attack on religious freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, explained the failed exemption.

[The Obama administration] has refused to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good–including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals–from its sweeping new health-care mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees.

Last August, when the administration first proposed this nationwide mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage, it also proposed a “religious employer” exemption. But this was so narrow that it would apply only to religious organizations engaged primarily in serving people of the same religion.

Even E.J. Dionne, no libertarian he, is frustrated by the news.

As a Catholic, I wish the Church would show more flexibility on this question. But as an American, I understand why its leaders felt that the broad contraception mandate encroached on the Church’s legitimate prerogatives. The administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here.

This is a particularly damaging step given the fact that Catholic charities do so much work in areas where there is no significant financial incentive to provide care – and as such, eliminating their ability to practice medicine without compromising their beliefs will have a severe impact on the community. And for what? To please a few hard-core single-issue abortion voters on the left?

The free exercise of religion is not a minor matter to be decided by boards and agencies. It is fundamental to the American creed and enshrined in our Bill of Rights. If Obama administration officials truly believe they can take a step this significant without reaping the whirlwind, they are incredibly naïve. Expect the backlash to come, and for it to be loud.

— Benjamin Domenech



Several interesting nuggets in the latest Kaiser figures, including this: just 3 in 10 Americans believe the Supreme Court will uphold the individual mandate – but the same percentage believes that ditching the mandate will effectively undo the entire law.

As for the public’s own views of the mandate, the January poll shows that the requirement that everyone obtain health insurance or pay a fine continues to be unpopular. This month’s poll finds the public more than twice as likely to have an unfavorable rather than favorable view of the provision (67% to 30%), very much in line with findings of previous Kaiser polls. Reflecting this dislike for a mandate, 54 percent of Americans say the Court should rule the individual mandate unconstitutional, while just 17 percent say they think it should be found constitutional. Roughly mirroring public views on the mandate, 55 percent of the public say they expect the Justices to find the mandate unconstitutional and 29 percent expect the Justices to find it constitutional.

The public does not expect the entire law to go away if the Supreme Court rules against the mandate. A majority (55%) of the public believes that parts of the health reform law will still be implemented even if the Court strikes down the individual mandate, while three in ten (30%) think a ruling against the mandate effectively will mean the end of the entire law.

SOURCE: Kaiser Family Foundation


According to this opinion piece from the NFIB’s Karen Harned, the mandate remains the core of Obama’s law, and removing it should make the entire approach unworkable.

In two months, the United States Supreme Court will hear NFIB make its case for why the mandate is unconstitutional. The court will also hear why, based on Congress’s own intentions, the individual mandate’s demise should mean the destruction of the entire law.

Even the government has lost some ground in its defense of Obamacare. In a brief that will be filed today, the government is sure to reiterate its concession that the mandate is “essential” to the law. In fact, it has already identified major elements of the law that cannot exist without this requirement. The crumbling has already begun.

If the court strikes the entire law, Congress needs to go back to the drawing board and have a real conversation about health care, listening to real voices – those of constituents and small-business owners – and leaving special deals and backroom lobbying at the door.

If the individual mandate is allowed to stand, there will be no end to Congress’s power over the people. There will be no line in the sand, no boundaries to what Congress can mandate. The government has never been able to say what the limits to Congress’s power would be if the mandate is upheld, for one simple reason: they would no longer exist.

The brief from the DOJ that she refers to is available here.

SOURCE: Daily Caller


Spencer Harris writes on Texas’s MLR waiver:

Texas insurance companies are required to comply with the MLR requirements through a rebate to customers for the difference between the required MLR and their actual MLR. In 2010 these rebates would have totaled $158.1 million. However, total industry underwriting profits were only $158.6 million in 2010.10 To comply with the MLR requirements and maintain a profitable business model, Texas insurance companies will have to cut more than just underwriting profits.

TDI recognizes that none of the top 8 carriers in Texas have notified the department of their intent to leave as would be required by state law. However, when the PPACA’s MLR requirements were applied to historical data, the pressure on insurers becomes clear. Regulations this drastic do not lay the foundation for long-term growth for the Texas insurance marketplace.

Since passage of the PPACA, HHS has received 15 requests from states for MLR requirement waivers. Of these 15 HHS fully approved only one waiver request, granted limited approval to five other states, rejected six other states, and three states, Texas included, await a determination. The state leadership should continue to push for these adjustments to protect the state’s insurance market.

Subsequent to this paper’s publication, the administration denied Texas’ request.

SOURCE: Texas Public Policy Foundation


It’s on the schedule for Wednesday.

According to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office, the House of Representatives will vote on the Fiscal Responsibility and Retirement Security Act of 2011 (HR1173) this Wednesday. This bill, which recently passed the House Ways and Means Committee with a bipartisan vote, would repeal the CLASS Act.

The CLASS Act is the voluntary, long-term care program created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in 2010. Despite the White House advocating to merely “rework” the CLASS Act, Republicans and Democrats alike have acknowledged that this piece of legislation is nothing more than a budgeting gimmick and a “Ponzi scheme of the first order.” The CLASS Act was worked into PPACA so that the bill appeared fiscally sustainable. However, internal documents and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports now reveal what many have been claiming for almost two years, that the billions of dollars in future savings for seniors would never materialize. In October of 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finally had to admit, much to the Administration’s embarrassment, that the CLASS Act was fiscally unsound.

Before HHS disclosed that it would no longer be moving forward with the program, it was revealed that the Administration had engaged in a series of backroom negotiations to create a series of repairs, hoping to hide the major flaws in the Act. To this day, the White House and HHS have not revealed who were involved in those discussions or what plans were made to “fix” the CLASS Act. This is in sharp contrast to the Administration’s claims of accountability and transparency.

SOURCE: American Action Forum


The latest block from the FTC is for a hostile bid on Pharmerica:

The Federal Trade Commission sued Omnicare on Friday, seeking to block the pharmacy service provider’s hostile $441 million bid for PharMerica.

By suing Omnicare, the F.T.C. is seeking to block the merger of the nation’s two biggest long-term pharmacy services providers. A combination of the two companies would give Omnicare significant bargaining power over the nursing facilities that are its customers, the agency contends.

“If Omnicare is allowed to purchase its biggest and only national competitor, it will diminish competition and raise health care costs – leaving taxpayers and patients to foot the bill,” Richard Feinstein, the F.T.C.’s competition director, said in a statement. “The bureau will continue to be vigilant in our efforts to prevent these sorts of anticompetitive deals.”

SOURCE: Dealbook


This could get interesting: Apparently the Food and Drug Administration staff was surprised to learn their discussions of decisions were being monitored – particularly their discussion of medical devices.

Copies of the e-mails show that, starting in January 2009, the FDA intercepted communications with congressional staffers and draft versions of whistleblower complaints complete with editing notes in the margins. The agency also took electronic snapshots of the computer desktops of the FDA employees and reviewed documents they saved on the hard drives of their government computers.

FDA computers post a warning, visible when users log on, that they should have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” in any data passing through or stored on the system, and that the government may intercept any such data at any time for any lawful government purpose.

But in the suit, the doctors and scientists say the government violated their constitutional privacy rights by gazing into personal e-mail accounts for the purpose of monitoring activity that they say was lawful.

“Who would have thought that they would have the nerve to be monitoring my communications to Congress?” said Robert C. Smith, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, a former radiology professor at Yale and Cornell universities who worked as a device reviewer at the FDA until his contract was not renewed in July 2010. “How dare they?”

An FDA spokeswoman, Erica Jefferson, said the agency does not comment on litigation.

SOURCE: Washington Post


David Shaywitz has an interesting post at on R&D and the danger of precaution:

The most significant – and potentially, most correctable (which is why it’s especially frustrating – it’s explicitly of our own making) problem – is that regulators, as others have astutely observed, seem to have misapplied the “precautionary principle,” colloquially understood as “first, do no harm.” The problem isn’t so much the sentiment as the way it’s reduced to practice.

We are far more attuned to the potential harms a new product may create than the potential harms a new product may avoid. No regulator wants to face a Congressional committee – generally a bipartisan committee, incidentally, as indignant posturing and self-righteous outrage seems easily to cross party lines – demanding to know why an approved drug was ultimately discovered to cause unexpected problems. Raise the bar for approval high enough and you reduce the likelihood of this occurring.

Unfortunately, far less attention is paid to the reverse – to the very real patients who never receive a new medication because excessive regulation resulted in prohibitively high hurdles, effectively dampening work, disincentiving investment, and stifling progress.

SOURCE: Forbes