ALTHOUGH AMERICAN Catholics rarely scrutinize their health insurance choices, three Catholic laymen are making the argument that they should. These choices play a key role in any response to Pope John Paul II's call to build a “culture of life,” according to Michael O'Dea and Robert Mylod of ValuSure Corporation, and Robert de Marcellus of the Association for Family Finances in America (AFFA).
“It is time Catholics examined the slippery slope down which health care in America is evolving,” says O'Dea, an insurance executive from Detroit.
“It is clear that the insurance dollars of Catholics are funding abortions, sterilizations, in vitro fertilizations, abortifacent contraceptives, and unnecessary diagnostic procedures that can lead to abortions,” O'Dea continued. “Yet major companies that fund health care use the premiums of Catholics without giving them any choice about how their money will be used.”
O'Dea learned about the health care industry as a health care executive for a Fortune 500 company. He and his wife founded two crisis pregnancy centers in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Through his work, O'Dea came to believe that “the medical profession and the majority of health insurance carriers impose abortion coverage on employers and employees alike.”
When O'Dea met Robert Mylod, he was retiring as CEO and chairman of Michigan National Bank. Mylod had decided to “stay in the business community and do God's work” as a focus for his retirement. Mylod is also chairman of the Michigan chapter of the Catholic Campaign for America.
O'Dea said that when they met, Mylod told him that “he was interested in transforming the culture by reallocating capital in support of the family and away from secular trends that—either subtly or not—sought to undermine it.”
Robert de Marcellus, Catholic layman and AFFA president, joined O'Dea and Mylod in their drive to design a solution. AFFA is a non-profit organization whose object is to better economic conditions for families.
The three discovered that, despite laws that protected the conscience of the insured, employers and health care providers were being misled by a variety of parties with vested interests: lawyers, consultants, Health and Human Services officials, and state and federal medical professionals. They were led to believe their plans were required to provide abortion services.
“No HMO or other participant in a federal program should be required to provide abortion beyond the confines of the Hyde Amendment,” said O'Dea. The Hyde Amendment allows abortion funding in federal programs only in the case of rape, or incest, or to save the life of the mother.
O'Dea continued: “And no self-insured employer should be under any pressure to provide abortion for any reason, based on the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).”
O'Dea and Mylod say that not only moral secular laws are being ignored; that economic justice issues are involved as well.
“We felt it was time Americans realized that the money spent on health insurance premiums, even though paid by their employer or their taxes, is their money,” said O'Dea.
Mylod said the principle of subsidiarity, as described by Pope John Paul II in Centesimus Annus, is being violated because individuals and institutions are not being allowed their conscientious choice in determining how their premiums are being spent. Subsidiarity is the principle that, in justice, the lowest level—in this case, the insureds—have the right to make such fundamental decisions.
The voices of these three were not the only ones raised to implore Catholics to examine their consciences about health care.
Before he died in 1996, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin issued a requirement for Catholic hospitals to use in evaluating all joint ventures and affiliations.
The cardinal's protocol for the Archdiocese of Chicago stated that any joint venture or other business arrangement that would place the Catholic vision of health care at serious risk would not be approved. Failure to abide by the protocol could result in the archdiocese withdrawing recognition of the institution as Catholic. Cardinal Bernardin himself received care in his last days from the University of Loyola Medical Center, a Catholic facility.
In Indiana a merger between a Catholic and a secular hospital plunged the two facilities and the diocese into controversy recently. When St. Elizabeth Hospital teamed up with Home Hospital in Lafayette, spokesper-sons rushed to assure Catholics that their hospital would not provide reproductive and sterilization services, while admitting those services would still be available at Home Hospital.
The hastily issued assurance, coming with a promise that St. Elizabeth's would not “in any way share in the revenue … of that project” did little to assure that diocese's Catholics.
“You can't say, ‘No, we don't provide abortion services, but if you want one, go up the street to the other hospital we own half of and have one,’” said Joseph Mackey, a Catholic of Lafayette.
If the mergers of Catholic and secular hospitals are under fire, at least there is a clear choice for Catholic institutions not to enter into these partnerships. According to Mylod, O'Dea, and de Marcellus, health insurance is another matter. Rarely are Catholics given a choice by either their company or their health insurance provider.”
“Catholics can be contributing money to support pregnancy crisis centers, or Natural Family Planning classes,” O'Dea said, “but their insurance premiums will still be going towards funding abortions and sterilizations without their knowledge.”
Mylod agrees. “Complex as they are, many plans glaze over the eyes of even the most diligent executive. Yet these plans provide the financial fuel for a major portion of the 1.5 million abortions performed every year.”
“You will find heath care plans that say they exclude ‘voluntary’ or ‘elective’ abortions. This gives Catholics a nice, safe feeling, but it is not the case,” says O'Dea. “Unless terms like ‘voluntary abortion” are clearly defined in the plan, the mentality is that they will give whatever health care to the mother they consider to be in her best interest, including an elective abortion.”
Although market forces usually drive industries toward providing more choices and better information to the consumer, these forces have not held sway in the health care industry.
According to Mylod, “Health care grew quickly to now absorb about 15% to 19% of the GNP. Yet it is the only industry I know of where the consumer is not informed about what is going on. The industry has found a way to make the consumer's choices without the consumer being aware of it.”
O'Dea, Mylod, and de Marcellus were able to design a solution for groups of insured that are most vulnerable: sole-proprietorships and small businesses. They have raised capital among pro-life and pro-family supporters to found ValuSure, a health-care insurance consulting company that builds pro-life health programs with Golden Rule Insurance Company or the Medical Savings Insurance Company. Both companies decline to fund abortions, sterilizations, and other procedures objectionable to Catholics.
ValuSure draws upon provisions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996. This act authorized the creation of family and individual tax-free medical savings accounts (MSAs), which work much like an Individual Retirement Annuity (IRA). Contributions of up to $ 3,375 per family per year are tax-deferred for the life of the plan. MSAs allow the insured to choose their health care provider, and allow funds not used in medical expenses for that year to go into tax-deferred savings.
The Medical Savings Account strategy has built-in limitations. Congress capped the number of accounts at 750,000 total. There is a window of time defined by the Act that requires qualified entry into a Medical Savings Account Plan by December of 2001. Finally, only the self-employed or businesses with 50 or fewer employees are eligible for MSAs.
Some advantages of MSA-based health care plans are that they restore the principle of subsidiarity by allowing the insured to choose the goods and services he is purchasing; they also restore capital to families by allowing tax-deferral and the accumulation of savings.
But most importantly, they give back to Catholics the power to say “no” to plans that offer them health care coverage with one hand while, with the other, extort from them support for a culture of death.
Kate Ernsting is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.