Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Jesuit Schools Debate Abortion Coverage

The Affordable Care Act has come up against Jesuit values in Southern California as the Jesuit institution Loyola Marymount University ended insurance coverage for elective abortions through university paid coverage.

The new policy in place now requires administration from a third party to be used for coverage with a higher premium, and not funded by LMU money. University President David W. Burcham and board chairwoman Kathleen Aikenhead in a written statement said, “NO LMU dollars will be spent paying for the additional coverage.”

Associate professor of sociology at LMU Anna Muraco has written on the issue and hinges on equality in the workplace. She argues this plan “singles out health coverage that only affects one class of worker.”

Some of her concern also involves these high premiums being applied to lower-paid employees. In a Daily Breeze article on the subject, Muraco states “They [LMU] claim to be an institution that respects diversity and religious plurality and we did not have to sign any kind of faith statement like other [Catholic] schools have.” Muraco has told The Argonaut, a Southern California-based publication that she plans to take legal action if abortion coverage is dropped.

Much debate over the insurance coverage of religious institutions has stemmed from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Many questions revolve around the rights of institutions or employers to be exempt from contraception and abortion coverage.

Under the ACA, religious institutions need not obtain these types of coverage if they choose not to. Although LMU will not provide elective abortions, coverage mandated by the state of California will remain in place including therapeutic abortions, contraception, and other forms of reproductive care.

Father Robert Caro, LMU’s vice president for mission and ministry said that “exclusion of abortion from our medical benefits does not infringe freedom of conscience, civil rights or anyone’s decision to have an abortion. It does mean that university funds would not be used to pay for elective abortions. It is the position which LMU’s institutional commitment to Roman Catholicism urges us to respect.”

Religious liberty has been deep in the conversation of the Affordable Care Act, especially concerning religious employers. According to the White House website, employers will not be required to provide, pay for, or refer for contraceptive coverage, but her insurance company will be required to directly offer a patient’s contraceptive care free of charge. The health insurance reform maintains that no federal funding will be used for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or endangered life.

According to a New York Times article on the religious matter of the Affordable Care Act, “the law offers an exemption for ‘religious employers,’ meaning those who meet a four-part test: that their purpose is to inculcate religious values, that they primarily employ and serve people who share their religious tenets, and that they are nonprofit groups under federal tax law.”

Many religious schools and colleges do not meet this criteria because their employees are members of other religions and do not maintain the same religious values.

At Seattle University abortion coverage has never been provided for elective cases.

“We have a complex insurance arrangement for our faculty and staff,” said Matt Philip, compensation and benefits director.

He explains that for Seattle University faculty and staff there are three benefit plans for medical insurance, two through Premera Blue Cross insured by the university, and the third with Group Health Cooperative. Group Health is fully insured and subject to the state laws of Washington.

“Contraceptives are part of that law,” Philip said. “They’re there and that’s been in place for a long time.”

Washington state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “requires health policies issued by the state health insurance pool to provide coverage for drugs and contraceptive devices requiring a prescription.” Seattle U’s insurance policy for faculty and staff is in line with this legislation.

Under this coverage plan, Seattle U, does carry “pregnancy termination” benefits. These benefits fall under medical necessity, required only if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. “Distinguishing from voluntary” Philip said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Seattle U has made many changes to its health insurance policies, changes that have been slowly phased in over the last couple of years. In 2011, the age limit of 26 was a policy the university implemented. Coverage has been expanded, but this came with cost implications for the university and employees.

There are fees applied to many benefits. Jerry Huffman, vice president of Human Resources, explains that other fees the university is facing include penalties for organizations offering care considered to be high quality or “premium.” This tax is anticipated for 2018.

“It’s going to be a pretty steep fee,” said Huffman. “It’s something like 40 percent tax. It’s very big, and that’s the kind of thing that’s looming out in front of organization that they are preparing for now and reshaping their plans in such a way that they are not perceived to be premium.”

“All in all more people are getting coverage through the Affordable Care Act and through the exchanges,” Philip said. “More people that didn’t have insurance before have an opportunity and an outlet to have themselves covered. The thing that for us we are concerned about is ‘will the Affordable Care Act be effective at holding onto cost and making the health care system more efficient and effective for
all consumers?”

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