Election outcome expected to influence religious freedom in health care

IMAGE: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — A pair of Catholic physicians argue that changes in the way health
care is paid for and stronger relationships between doctors and their patients will
do more to improve people’s health and uphold the sanctity of life than
bureaucratic government-run programs and expensive insurance policies.

Dr. Marguerite Duane, adjunct
associate professor of family medicine at Georgetown University, and Dr. Lester Ruppersberger, president
of the Catholic Medical Association, also maintain that control over
health care must be in the hands of patients and their families rather than any

physicians offered their views during an hourlong discussion Nov. 2 in Washington sponsored
by Christ Medicus Foundation at the Catholic Information
Center called “The Changing Face of Health Care and the 2016

program took place just days ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Each of the four participants said that the next presidential administration and the new Congress will influence how the U.S. health care system evolves.

panelists expressed concern over the erosion of conscience protections for hospitals
and health care workers and the rights of individuals to choose a doctor who
aligns with their religious beliefs and to purchase insurance without paying
for health services that they morally oppose.

have to realize that Americans of all stripes, regardless of their religious
affiliation, that we are losing our religious freedom … at amazing speed,”
said Louis Brown, foundation

seeing with the increased power of the executive, of the White House and
regulatory agencies that a lot of things can be done or undone without
congressional action, and there’s a lot of danger,” Brown said.

said the new Congress is expected to strengthen the Weldon Amendment, a federal
law enacted in 2005 to protect the conscience rights of institutions and
individuals, and to clarify some aspects of the Religious Freedom Restoration

there’s the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.

said observers expect at least three, and perhaps four, justices will be
appointed by the next president and they likely will play a key role in health
care services as lawsuits make their way through appeals.

foundation-led discussion stemmed in part from its CURO health care ministry, a
health sharing program that bills itself as an alternative to traditional
health insurance. It enables people to pay for medical expenses without being
part of an insurance plan they feel compromises their religious beliefs.

panelists covered several topics, with the physicians expressing concern for increasingly
restrictive regulations emerging from the Affordable Care Act that serve to marginalize
the conscience of health care workers, Catholic hospitals and patients.

fourth panelist, Matt Bowman,
senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, outlined some of the lawsuits
nationwide filed on discrimination grounds challenging the rights of hospitals
and health care professionals to deny to offer care that violates their
religious beliefs.

her experience treating patients at the Spanish Catholic Center in the Archdiocese of
Washington, Duane said she has learned that health care does not have to be
expensive or guided by a checklist of actions in order to meet reimbursement
guidelines or government mandates.

of our health care costs does
not actually pay for health care,” Duane told the forum. “It covers
the administration of the bureaucracy that continues to build and expand and
will only hasten and worsen with the Affordable Care Act. All of this money we
are putting into this health care system is not helping people get healthier.
It’s helping government to grow bigger. It’s helping government to have greater
control in our lives and what we do.”

ACA is facing new challenges after the Department of Health and Human Services
announced in October that 2017 premiums for mid-level health plans will increase
by an average of 25 percent and that consumers in some states will find fewer insurance companies offering coverage.

called for greater use of direct primary care, an alternative care model in
which a trusting relationship between patient and doctor is encouraged and
fee-for-service incentives are replaced with a flat monthly fee. She said
direct primary care leads to better outcomes because people feel connected to
their doctor.

cooperation with another physician, Duane has formed a direct primary care
practice in which basic care is delivered at homes or elsewhere. She said the
monthly cost is $79 for individuals and $250 for families.

health insurance instead, Duane explained, can be used for more costly
procedures and because it would be used less often premiums could be lower. She
compared such a system of comprehensive health insurance to automobile
insurance, which is accessed only in cases of serious damage to a vehicle.

said the Catholic Medical Association has long recognized the need for health
care delivery reform. He pointed to the Catholic Medical Association’s 2004
white paper, “Health Care in America: A Catholic Proposal for Renewal,”
which offered specific policy proposals based on Catholic moral and social

document, he explained, pointed to a “crisis” in the American health
care that stems from the lack of health insurance coverage millions of
Americans had in 2004 and continue to have today despite the ACA.

crisis in American health care is more than a crisis of the insured and
uninsured,” Ruppersberger said. “It is a crisis afflicting the
patient-physician relationship, which has been eroded by factors that include
financing health care, but that are more properly understood as having their
roots in the loss of a common understanding, within and without the medical
profession, of the sanctity and inviolability of each human life and the
dignity of the person.”

Catholic Church, he continued, can provide the needed guidance to “enact
meaningful health care policies that uphold the sanctity of life from
conception to natural death, as well as the common good, and to do so in a
financially sustainable fashion,” he said.

that the document must be updated to reflect changes in the health sector since
then, Ruppersberger noted that any recommendations the Catholic Medical Association offers will conform
with Catholic social and moral teaching.

challenge is to create new incentives that drive the power and responsibility
for purchasing health insurance away from specific employers and government
bureaucracies and toward the individual worker and family. Changes in public
policy are needed to foster a renewed climate in which individuals and families
are free to make decision about their health care and its source based upon
conscience,” he said.

cited cases in which religiously affiliated medical facilities and physicians are
defending their right not to refer a woman for an abortion elsewhere when the
procedure is not offered at their own facilities. He also noted a Vermont case in which doctors are
required to tell a terminally ill patient about all treatment options available,
including physician-assisted suicide.

is a serious issue about whether health care professionals or health care facilities
will be able to practice medicine consistent with their beliefs,” Bowman
said of the lawsuits pending nationwide. “But it’s also an issue about
whether their patients will be able to choose them. There are many women who
want the freedom to choose a doctor to deliver their baby and their doctor also
does not kill babies.”

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Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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