Obama’s Attack on Religious Liberty Will Raise Health Care Costs

Published June 12, 2012

President Barack Obama is becoming his own worst enemy when it comes to keeping his promises. His repeated campaign promise to lower health insurance premiums by $2,500 by the end of his first term is running into a snag that was completely avoidable: his administration’s pointless and unnecessary assault on religious liberty.

Since Obama took office, health insurance premiums have increased–by an average of more than $2,200, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And when HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the administration would require the coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients as part of preventive coverage under Obama’s health care law, she may have dramatically hurt the ability of the administration to reverse that upward trend.

Religious institutions stunned by a mandate to violate their deeply held beliefs reacted as one might have expected. First, they took to the public square, making their views known. Then they went to the courts, filing suit against the administration–more than 40 institutions, including Notre Dame University and the Catholic University of America, have now done so. And now, for the first time, an institution has announced it will take the third step: dropping health insurance coverage entirely rather than abide by the mandate.

Franciscan University, in Steubenville, Ohio, announced it would drop student health insurance policies rather than violate the church’s beliefs. Franciscan’s student health insurance policy had previously excluded contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients. In addition to the offending mandate, the university learned the premium costs for its students was about to double, according to Franciscan’s vice president of advancement, Mike Hernon. That made the decision even easier, and it illustrates why the Obama administration’s birth control mandate is so shortsighted and pointless.

Obama’s law institutes an employer mandate to provide insurance, with an annual tax penalty of $2,000 for every full-time employee (or equivalent) beyond the first 30 workers if no insurance is provided. For some organizations, this will be a high price to pay–but paying it would allow them to retain their right to exercise their religious beliefs. And given the rising premium costs under Obama’s law–premiums for a family policy exceeded $15,000 a year in 2011–this might make sense for their bottom line as well.

Why should any organization compromise its members’ beliefs, paying for services that are anathema to their faith, when these institutions can simply pay a fine for refusing to abide by the employer mandate in Obamacare? Their employees and students will go onto the taxpayer-funded dole–either Medicaid or Obama’s subsidized exchanges. This is an easy and obvious choice.

What makes this situation all the more absurd is how unnecessary it was for the White House to provoke the confrontation. Contraception is inexpensive and easily available in every drug store in the country. Cities and localities give away millions of condoms for free–or rather, at taxpayer expense–every year. New York City’s condom program alone distributes more than 3 million contraceptives a month. It seems as if the Obama administration sought to provoke a fight with religious institutions on purpose, out of little more than spite.

These institutions are responding accordingly, putting their faith first. The White House’s effort to bring religious institutions to heel will just push more people into the taxpayer-subsidized coverage on Medicaid or Obama’s exchanges–further increasing the costs of the law for everyone.

Both Obama and the nation’s taxpayers may soon be wondering: Was this assault on religious liberty really worth it?

Benjamin Domenech ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News.