Local hospitals could face fines in Obamacare fight

2013-09-14T23:15:00Z 2013-09-16T10:06:08Z Local hospitals could face fines in Obamacare fightVanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

Editor's note: This story is part of an occasional series that looks at how the Affordable Care Act affects the region.

Court records filed in early September offer insight on how the Region's largest health care system will be affected by the Affordable Care Act, which includes language they say violates their religious beliefs.

Franciscan Alliance joined other plaintiffs, including the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Our Sunday Visitor and University of Saint Francis, in a 2012 lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Mishawaka-based Franciscan Alliance, a nonprofit health care system that follows Catholic teachings, runs 11 hospitals in Indiana and two in Illinois.

Among them are Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospitals in Hammond and Dyer, Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospitals in Crown Point and Michigan City and Franciscan Healthcare - Munster.

Franciscan officials would not comment, citing the litigation. 

But court records show Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairwoman of the Franciscan Alliance, submitted an affidavit Sept. 5 on behalf of Franciscan Alliance, in support of a preliminary injunction filed in the case.

In her statement, Klein said none of the benefit plans offered by Franciscan covers abortion, sterilization or contraceptives because the Catholic church teaches life begins at the moment of conception and that sex should be reserved to married couples in which the husband and wife are open to life. Artificial interference is immoral.

"Because Franciscan's health plans' years begin on Jan. 1, Franciscan must be prepared to comply with the regulations at issue in this lawsuit (the mandate), by that date," she said.

If Franciscan stops offering employee health plans or does not provide required coverage, it will be exposed to the risk of significant liability starting Jan. 1, she stated.

"Franciscan will face fines of $2,000 per employee after the first 30 employees per year, or $100 per individual per day," she stated. "With approximately 18,000 full-time employees, that means that Franciscan could face hundreds of millions in fines."

The Obama administration earlier this year offered an accommodation under which employees of religious hospitals and universities can obtain contraceptive coverage through policies separate from their employer's insurer.

The accommodation does not resolve Franciscan's religious objection, she stated.

"Under both the original and final versions of the mandate, Franciscan’s decision to provide group health plans triggers the provision of contraceptive benefits to its employees in a manner contrary to Franciscan’s beliefs," she said.

The mandate, she stated, splits the Catholic church into a religious wing and a charitable wing.

The religious wing is exempt from the mandate and the charitable wing is not, which prevents the church "from exercising supervisory authority over its constituents in a way that ensures compliance with church teachings," she stated.

St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, are part of Community Healthcare System.

“We remain committed to upholding at St. Catherine Hospital and St. Mary Medical Center the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services," stated Mylinda Cane, regional director of marketing and corporate communications. "As such, our hospitals will fall under an accommodation that exempts us from contracting, arranging, paying or referring for coverage for contraceptive care."

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