Monday, November 25, 2013

Outcry in Louisville about University Hospital's Healthcare Plan Following Merger with Kentucky One/Catholic Health Initiatives

Another eye-catching item in today's news: as Laura Ungar reports for Louisville Courier-Journal, the American Civil Liberties Union and other human rights groups are unhappy about a recent announcement made by the University of Louisville hospital. The hospital recently announced that its 2014 insurance plan for employees will no longer cover vasectomies. The plan also erases all references to domestic partners, lumping them together with "dependent adults." The plan has explicitly inserted into its insurance coverage guidelines language defining spouses solely as legally married persons of the opposite sex.

Why these changes? Various watchdog groups think they're due to a partnership into which University of Louisville hospital entered earlier this year with Kentucky One Health group. Kentucky One's majority owner is Catholic Health Initiatives. 

Though when the merger took place, the public was told that the decision of a university hospital to partner with a Catholic hospital system would not lead to more limited care and coverage for the university hospital, it now appears to groups raising complaints about the proposed healthcare plan that the university hospital (which is funded by public funds) is subject to healthcare directives governing Catholic healthcare systems.

As Nina Martin notes for Pacific Standard earlier this month, in the state of Washington alone, taxpayer-funded hospitals with no religious affiliation are rapidly merging with Catholic hospitals so that, according to ACLU estimates, by the end of this year nearly half of the hospital beds in that state could be under the control or influence of Catholic hospital directives. This leaves many of those monitoring this development with questions about what will happen to reproductive rights and to gay folks seeking treatment in such hospitals.

This trend of merging public hospitals with Catholic ones is a growing national trend in the U.S., and it's causing concern in many communities, as people raise separation-of-church-and-state questions about the funding of hospitals that dance to a particular church's tune by taxpayer dollars. And as they raise questions about access to contraceptive procedures or medicines prohibited by Catholic magisterial teaching, and the rights of members of gay couples to make medical decisions about each other in such merged hospitals and to visit each other in the hospital.

In my view, the questions many folks are asking about this new development in American healthcare are sound ones and need to be asked. In my own community in the past year, these questions were asked so persistently and loudly by watchdog groups that a proposed merger of our state university medical hospital with the Catholic hospital in the city was ditched, due to the loud outcry against such a merger from many people who object to the infringement of the line separating church and state. 

It's important to recall here the case in Cologne early this year, about which I wrote here, here, here, and here, as well as the case of Salita Halappanavar in Ireland last year. In my view, Catholic hospitals have done and continue to do a great deal of good in providing healthcare across the U.S. 

They have no business, however, seeking to impose on state-funded hospitals merged with Catholic ones strictures regarding reproductive rights or homosexuality that are unique to Catholic magisterial teaching. Or another way to put the point: the U.S. Catholic bishops need to stop trying to impose Catholic magisterial teaching in these areas on the public at large. Period. Full stop.

Coercion is never a respectable or compelling way to make a moral argument. It serves only to demonstrate that those seeking to force others to accept their moral position don't have a very strong argument to present in the first place.

(Thanks to Dennis Coday for including the Courier-Journal article in his "Morning Briefing" column in National Catholic Reporter today.)

The graphic, which shows the percentage of admissions to Catholic hospitals state-by-state across the U.S. in 2010, is from a February 2012 report of the New York Times.

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