The health reform legislation jumped back to the forefront this week as a controversial regulation created a political firestorm between the Roman Catholic Church and other religious organizations, and the Obama Administration concerning just one aspect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. I used “one” in the previous sentence because this is just the beginning of what is likely to be thousands of new rules and regulations coming out of the federal bureaucracy that businesses, individuals and providers will have to comply with beginning sooner rather than later.
The ACA included nearly 1,700 declarative statements, giving authority to the executive branch to craft the detail of the health reform law. It did this because the bulk of the legislation was written in the United States Senate and was highly conceptual, punting a lot of key responsibility to the Department of Health and Human Services and other government agencies. This would be why Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “We need to pass the bill, to see what is in it.” As you can see, sometimes this can be controversial, and this is precisely what happens when Congress fails to to operate the way they were set up.
The latest regulation to enter the public domain concerns contraception, the morning after pill, and sterilization. While there are over 10,000 pages of regulations already written to implement the ACA, this one looks to overshadow the controversy about the individual mandate. In a nutshell, the regulation requires all faith based businesses and religious institutions who offer insurance coverage to their employees as a benefit, to include birth control, the morning after abortion pill, and sterilizations coverage in their policies. There are no exceptions, but religious institutions have been given until 2013 to make the change—an extension of the ACA deadline. There will be no shopping around for a better coverage choice.
Religious institutions are fervently opposed to the fact they must now include coverage for services that contradict their teachings. This regulation has opponents who see this action as another step designed to limit basic Constitutional freedoms, while still others see it purely as an economic issue. For example, if the government is saying these organizations must provide one service or another, what will happen to small businesses who are already seeing rising health care costs destroy their profits, now forced to provide new benefits to employees? What happens if new compliance requirements because of added government regulations forces them to lay off someone in order to hire someone new?
Already there is talk that some of these institutions may drop employee health insurance coverage entirely. Small faith-based businesses will have difficult decisions to make, too. As will the the Congress and the Courts who now find themselves at the forefront as opponents seek to overturn this controversial new development.
Legislation and lawsuits are in the making. As more information is known about emerging ACA implementation regulations, the potential for clogging Congress and the courts with new legislation and lawsuits becomes a real possibility. While the White House indicated they may back off on this issue because of political backlash,this whole health reform law is kind of like an onion—you just keep peeling and more is there. And with a 10 year implementation, I’d bet my last dollar there will be a few tears shed on both sides.
Plenty of reading on this topic. Here are a few of the resources that were helpful to me.