Faith and Religion: Does Catholicism Plus Health Care, Equal Government Shutdown?

Accomplices to the crime? Insets: l - Cardinal Sean O'Malley, r - ArchBishop William Lori.

Accomplices to the crime? Insets: l – Cardinal Sean O’Malley, r – Archbishop William Lori.

     Fade in, Uncle Sam is lying on the ground, partially incapacitated. He’s been shot multiple times, by John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the GOP House leadership. While Cantor stands in the road and attempts to block the ambulance’s arrival, (1) the “CSI” of public examination and opinion is looking over the crime scene, trying to piece together what exactly has happened. As it turns out, one of the bullets can be traced…back to the Catholic Church! (This is the point where Horatio Caine dons his sunglasses, and utters a one-liner about the crime not being exactly…holy.)

     It’s an intriguing story, lacking only the beginning strains of The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” to complete the scene. The story is based on actual events, with origins tracing back well beyond the passage of PPACA in 2010. Given enough time and page space, I could regale you with a long treatise on the church’s history of government entanglements, however I’d like to keep your attention, while not taking up too much of your time, my fine young readers! So, we’ll just get right into the substance of the story, starting with 2010 and PPACA. (2)

     Although the specific text regarding the coverage of contraceptives, known as the “Contraceptive Mandate,” cannot be found within the 906 pages of Public Law 111-148, section 2713 does contain a general mandate for insurers to cover, with no cost-sharing requirements, the following items:

‘‘(1) evidence-based items or services that have in effect a rating of ‘A’ or ‘B’ in the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force;
(2) immunizations that have in effect a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with respect to the individual involved; and
(3) with respect to infants, children, and adolescents, evidence-informed preventive care and screenings provided for in the comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
(4) with respect to women, such additional preventive care and screenings not described in paragraph (1) as provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration for purposes of this paragraph.”

     Pursuant to item (4) in the list above, in January of last year, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a ruling requiring insurers to “…cover these [recommended contraceptive] services without cost sharing for women across the country” beginning on August 1st, 2012. The ruling made an exception for what it referred to as, “Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan,” granting them an additional year to comply with the new law. (3) As a result of this ruling, the Catholic church commenced an offensive against what it considered an “attack on freedom of religion.” (4)

     The opposition from the Catholic church hasn’t waned in the past year and a half. With the help of certain members of congress, two bills (one in the House,(5) the other in the Senate(6)) have been introduced, in an attempt to attach a “Conscience Clause” to the new health care law. Both bills are currently stalled in committee, with little to no prognosis for passage.

     It is at this point in our sordid tale, that the “bullet” comes in to the picture. On September 26th, a letter was sent to Congress by two committee chairmen from the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Within the text of this letter, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and Archbishop William Lori, urged congress to commit to the following course of action:

“We have already urged you to enact the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940/S. 1204). As Congress considers a Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill in the days to come, we reaffirm the vital importance of incorporating the policy of this bill into such “must-pass” legislation.(7)

At odds.

At odds.

     Indeed, two days later the House Republican majority inserted language to these ends, into the tail-end of section 131 of House Joint Resolution 59,(8) and sent it back across the hall to the Senate, which rejected it and sent it back, during the to-and-fro volleying leading up to the current “Partial Government Shutdown of 2013.”

     So, did the Catholic church cause the current government shutdown? No, but they did “supply the shooters with additional ammunition, knowing what that ammunition would be used for,” and that makes them complicit. (Right about now, some would love to see Calleigh Duquesne (ah, Emily Procter!) walking into the offices of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, and placing O’Malley and Lori in cuffs, I suspect!) Will the victim survive? We’re sure to find out within the next few days, as we bump up against Thursday’s debt limit deadline. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to…stay tuned! (Cue the Roger Daltrey scream…)

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Domestic Politics: Shutdown, Showdown and Who Pays The Price (With Videos!)

A Washingtonian Stand-off.

A Washingtonian Stand-off.

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Speaker Boehner and Congressman Cantor.

     Ah, Sunday. It’s a day filled with things like church, football, household chores and relaxation. There is however, an undercurrent of anxiety that has punctuated the last few Sundays on the calendar, at least for some. As we transit into week three of the government shutdown, its effects and implications are beginning to be noticed by more and more Americans. The political landscape has become further divided, and tempers are running a bit higher among both participants on Capitol Hill and those watching from the sidelines.

     As the increasing toll of the impasse in our nation’s capital becomes more apparent, one is led to wonder; just who is to blame for this quagmire? What factors contributed to this situation, and how did we get here? Who and what are being affected by the shutdown? My fine, young readers, please allow me to present a few facts and figures that may help answer these questions, starting with…

What Led Up To The Shutdown – A Tale of Two Houses

Charlie Rangel (D-NY)

Charlie Rangel (D-NY)

     On September 17th, 2009, Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced a bill on the floor of the then-Democrat-controlled House, initially entitled, “Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009.” This bill (the initial HR 3590 (PDF)) was considered by the Ways and Means committee, and subsequently passed the House by a 416-0 vote. (1) In other words, this bill contained language so “warm and fuzzy,” that even Tea Party-affiliated Republican representatives could get behind it! So the bill proceeded, like all bills usually do, to the Senate. The Senate, in turn, gutted Rangel’s existing bill, and filled the container with the rough language that would eventually become PPACA. This new bill, rechristened as the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” (PDF) was voted on and passed by a slim majority in the Democrat-controlled Senate on December 24th, 2009, and this “Christmas present” was sent back to the House. (2)

     I think it would be fair to say that at this point in the tale, the House Republicans were feeling a bit dyspeptic over what they considered a “bamboozling.” Who can forget the dramatic diatribe of Ohio representative John Boehner, during the final hours of the House’s consideration of HR 3590;

     Regardless, the bill was passed by the House on March 21st, 2010, by a narrow 219-212 vote, mostly along party lines. (3) (It should be noted that 34 House Democrats also voted against the passage of PPACA at the time.) It was during this time, that the seeds of the current shutdown were first planted in the political soils of the capital.

     In the fall of 2010, several Democrats lost seats in the House to Republicans, and as a result, John Boehner, the distinguished gentleman from Ohio, was minted as the 61st Speaker of a now-Republican-controlled House of Representatives, on January 5th, 2011. The balance of power…had shifted. Since then, GOP pols have stated, sometimes openly, that they would do whatever they could to kill this “bane of their existence,” this monster, nicknamed “Obama-Care,” up to and including, if necessary, forcing a government shutdown.

Eric Cantor (R-VA)

Eric Cantor (R-VA)

     Flash forward to the fall of 2013. The GOP-controlled house now found itself in “planning mode” for two upcoming events; the end of FY-2013, and the start of open enrollment in the new health care exchanges of PPACA, both of which would be happening at the same time, October 1st. At some point, perhaps even as far back as January of 2011, a plan was hatched by the GOP leadership, to force the hand of the President and Democrats to make concessions that would either defund or delay the implementation of PPACA, by means of the threat of shutting down the government. (4)

     On September 20th of this year, House Republicans began their offensive in earnest, by inserting language into House Joint Resolution 59, the “Continuing Appropriations Resolution,” that would rob PPACA of all federal funding;

SEC. 137. (a) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any
22 other provision of law, no Federal funds shall be made
23 available to carry out any provisions of the Patient Protec
24 tion and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111–148) or
25 title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and
1 Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (Public Law 111–
2 152), or of the amendments made by either such Act.

     Having “engrossed and passed” this altered version of the continuing resolution, the House sent it back to the Senate, and so began a series of back-and-forth volleys between the two houses of congress; the Senate rejecting the House changes and sending a “clean CR” back to the House, and the House inserting the language to defund or cripple PPACA, and sending it back to the Senate. Round and round they went, right up to the midnight, September 30th deadline for passing the CR. With one final, evening push of the altered bill, (5) and its subsequent tabling by the Senate, (6) the “Partial Government Shutdown of 2013” was fait accompli.

     Now, there’s a catch to this story, my fine young readers! In the early morning (01:10 A.M.) hours of October 1st, another House Resolution, HR 368, was passed by the House. (7) It contained the following language:

SEC. 2. Any motion pursuant to clause 4 of rule XXII
relating to House Joint Resolution 59 may be offered only by
the Majority Leader or his designee.

     What this basically means, is that only Eric Cantor (R-VA) or whoever he picks as his designee, can put forth a motion that would adopt a clean version of the CR, and end the shutdown. In the following video clip, House Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) draws attention to this change in established House rules, as they apply to HJ Res 59:

Government Functions Grind To A Halt – The Rising Toll

     During the past two weeks, the news reports have been replete with stories of national parks being closed, memorials being barricaded, offices being shuttered and thousands of federal employees being furloughed, but that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The government shutdown is also having a “trickle-down” effect on other industries and recreational activities, such as:

  • Private Security companies – Cannot run federal background checks on prospective employees, due to the closure of those offices.
  • Local lakes – Hensley Lake in the Central California foothills, which is NOT a national park, but run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has been closed. Other state lakes have also met this fate during the current shutdown.
  • Deadliest Catch – Captain Keith Colburn testified before the Senate on Friday, regarding the shutdown’s impact on fisheries in the Pacific Northwest;

     This week will see the second deadline in this drama; on Thursday, our government will “hit the debt ceiling,” meaning that unless a deal is reached on the passage of any bill that would continue to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, we will automatically default on our debts, which will impact the economies of other nations worldwide. Applying their own typical spin, China’s Xinhua news published an op/ed this morning, commenting on this situation while calling for a more “de-Americanized” world. (8)

     Ladies and Gentlemen, I will leave it to you to decide who bears the ultimate blame for the mess we’re in, and to opine on how we might extricate ourselves from it.

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For another interesting view of this ongoing imbroglio, please see the following article by the fine folks at Liberal America:

Republican Shutdown 101: The Definitive Guide,” by Liberal America writer Amanda Fleming.

Faith and Religion: Separation of Church and Healthcare, Part Deux

The Vatican: Power over prophylactics?

     In another effort to impact healthcare, the Obama Administration, acting through the Department of Health and Human Services issued a ruling last week, mandating that all employers provide free access to contraception for their female employees. As a result, the Catholic church, which is vehemently opposed to all forms of birth control, mounted a protest. In response to this, president Obama announced a modification to the rule last Friday. Under the proposed accomodation, Catholic-affiliated employers would not have to shoulder the costs of contraception. Instead, these costs would be paid by the insurance companies.

     At first, it seemed that the accomodation would be accepted. After some discussion though, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement rejecting the proposed change, while at the same time Catholic Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, called upon both Catholics and non-Catholics alike to oppose the Obama policy. In addition, Catholics have derided the policy as an “attack on religious liberty.”

     Cardinal Wuerl, during an appearance on the Fox News program “America’s Newsroom,” had this to say regarding his hopes for support from the citizenry;

    “There’s one thing in the heart of this nation that we’re counting on, and that’s the basic fairness of the American people.”(1)

     [SOAPBOX=ON] Alright Cardinal Wuerl, I’ll give it to you in all fairness. There are a number of things that I find problematic about this whole affair, mostly on the part of the Catholic church, but also on the part of the government. First of all, the “attack on religious liberty” is not coming from the government in this case. It is once again, coming from the church! Freedom of religion also entails freedom from religion. I find it unconscionable that any Catholic-run hospital or other employer would seek to impose its religious proclivities on employees that, in many cases, may not even be Catholics themselves. (Not every employee of places like Mercy Medical Center in Merced, California is a Catholic!) That would be tantamount to saying that, if I work for a Catholic-affiliated hospital, that all of my choices in life must be in line with Catholic doctrines and dogmas. I have one thing to say to that; go fish.

     On the flip-side of the debate, I’m wondering why it is that the proposed coverage for contraception is only for females, and not males as well. Is the government suggesting that women have more sex than men do? Why make contraception and / or safer sex the responsibility of the woman, by default? In my not-so-humble opinion, the man is just as responsible for this! Also, why make it mandatory for employers to provide contraception for free? Just like the sex act is a choice, practicing safer sex is also a choice, albeit a prudent one. It is for this reason that I disagree with the Health and Human Services policy. This would be along the same lines as the government telling insurers and employers that they now have to pay for things like tummy tucks, breast augmentations and plastic surgery, all of which are elective procedures.

     It is things like this that drive the cost of healthcare and health insurance up, instead of down. It is also things like this that show just how power-hungry the Catholic church still is. It’s no wonder we have people like Nicki Minaj, openly mocking the church during a protracted “self-exorcism” performance at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards. If the church would just stop trying to run healthcare according to the Vatican’s edicts, and start acting in the best interests of all of the citizens it serves, maybe things would get a whole lot better.

Life and Living: Of Breasts and Babies…

Susan G. Komen for...?

     There’s a storm brewing in the skies above America. It’s pink-tinged clouds are hurling bolts of incendiary lightning back and forth, and there’s little indication as to when the skies will clear. Indeed, this is a storm of a feminine nature and scope; a fiery debate of breasts and babies. One would think that these two things would be complimentary of each other, like pie and ice cream or a burger and a bun… but not, it seems, when it comes to the national debate over Roe v. Wade.

     Pretty pink ribbons have adorned store walls, products and ads for sometime now, all due to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. The endeavour was started in 1982 by Ms. Nancy Brinker, a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary and Chief of Protocol under the Bush (43) administration, as a result of her sister’s death from breast cancer. Since then, the foundation has grown to encompass several areas of breast cancer activism, including advocacy, research, education and supportive services, and is one of the most trusted 501c non-profit organisations worldwide. Through the funding of Planned Parenthood, Komen has provided opportunities for low-income women to receive breast cancer screenings and other supportive services, however as the latest news would have it, that has changed…or has it?

     About two days ago, Komen announced that it was cutting funding to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for it’s breast cancer screening program. According to the Komen Foundation, this action was taken as a result of the recent adoption of stricter criteria that bar grants to organisations that are under investigation by the government. Of particular added interest in this story, is the recent (April, 2011) hiring of new Komen vice-president Karen Handel, former Georgia Secretary of State and vociferous abortion opponent. Also, Ms. Brinker has stated that the Komen Foundation is not in fact “defunding” Planned Parenthood per se;

     “We have three grants that will go on this year, and they will probably be eligible for the next grant cycle…”

     According to Planned Parenthood advocates, the decision to cease funding of PPFA is politically-motivated, resulting from pressure by anti-abortion advocacy groups, which are also responsible for prompting the government investigation of PPFA. Supporters of PPFA are also citing the Handel connection in their assertions that Komen has bowed under pressure. But let me back up for just a second, and mention that the Planned Parenthood Federation of America is currently being investigated by a congressional sub-comittee, due to concerns that taxpayer money may have been used to fund abortions. Since the announcement, both groups have seen a significant increase in donations; Komen from pro-life advocates, and PPFA from pro-choice’ers.

     To the weather eye, it appears that Komen might be concerned that their funds are also being used to pay for abortions, which would explain their announced decision to break with PPFA, since those funds are supposed to be being used for breast cancer screenings and other related services. According to a Christian Science Monitor article on the matter, “…the bottom line is that Komen has cut funding for breast-cancer screening and other breast-health programs at Planned Parenthood affiliates.”(1) If Nancy Brinker is to be believed though, this is not quite the case. Ms. Brinker has also stated that Karen Handel played no part in the funding decision, which I find to be a problematic statement at best.

Pink stuff

     Either way, the issue has women on both sides of the debate worked into a frenzy, and rightly so. During my evening on Facebook, I have noted several comments made by female friends of mine, posted to the Komen page. A few hastily-drawn pictures have even found their way into my newsfeed, one of them posted to the right in this article so that you, my fine young readers, can get an idea of some of what’s being said.(2) As I stated in the opening of the article, this is one storm that is just rolling in, and I don’t think we’ve seen the full amount of precipitation that it will bring just yet.

     UPDATE, February 3, 2012: It seems that Komen has now reversed its previously announced plans for defunding PPFA, amidst the firestorm of controversy. Now they’ve bowed to pressure…from the public!(3)

Faith and Religion: Separation of Church and Healthcare?

Mercy Medical Center's new campus in Merced, CA

     The contents of the following article are mostly my own personal opinions, save for where I state that an event occurred, and can readily provide factual evidence of that event so as to lend substance to the afore-mentioned opinions. I am writing this article because my family, friends and I have been personally and professionally slighted by the entity which I will be discussing. Although this is the case, I will still endeavour to present my arguments in as objective a manner as I am able to, for the benefit of informing you, my fine young readers…

     In May of 2010, Mercy Medical Center in Merced, California relocated itself to a brand new facility; an eight-floor building, complete with state-of-the-art equipment, increased emergency and in-patient capacity and even a fully functional helipad area. For months prior to it’s opening, this facility was touted throughout the area as being the “best thing since sliced bread.” (My words, as an analogous idea.) I will personally admit that this facility is a very impressive one, and its potential (by virtue of its design and equipment) for service to the area is outstanding. This hospital is managed by Catholic Healthcare West, a non-profit benefit corporation headquartered in San Francisco, California. Prior to the relocation of Mercy Medical Center, the hospital was located in a building owned by the County of Merced, on the southern end of the city. The reasons given for the relocation included concerns over service capacity, an inability to retrofit the existing building for earthquake safety and overall improvement of service to the residents of Merced County. It is in respect to this last item that concerns remain, even after the relocation.

     At this point, I would like to relay to you, my fine young readers, a little sidebar story. Over the past year or so, I have become close friends with the family downstairs from my humble apartment abode. They are some of the nicest people one could ever meet. My neighbor has three sisters (also fantastic people), one of which has two young daughters. (With me so far?) The youngest one, who is almost four years old but quite small for her age, was attacked by a Pit Bull last Tuesday at a local dog park. According to her mother, the attack resulted in significant injuries to the right-side temple area of her head, which tore the skin open and exposed the superficial temporal artery, missing the vessel itself by one millimeter. The child also has a puncture wound to her right lower jaw, and tearing of / through the right earlobe.

     (Again, the following events were recounted to me by the girl’s mother.) When this attack occurred, her parents immediately called for an ambulance, which transported the girl to the emergency room at Mercy. Upon arrival at the hospital, the girl and her parents were placed out in the department’s outer “waiting room,” where they proceeded to wait for over two hours before the girl was finally seen by a physician, according to her mother. Once inside the room, the physician rendering treatment decided to use this as a teaching situation (MMC Merced is after all, a teaching hospital!) for an intern. It was at this point that the grandmother (who had arrived during some point in these events) and the mother decided that the care the girl was receiving was not in line with the severity of the injury, removed her from the Mercy Medical Center emergency room, and drove her approximately 45 miles south to Children’s Hospital of Central California. Within 15 minutes of arrival at CHCC, the girl was being cared for by emergency staff.

     (The following section is factual, and can be readily corroborated by e-mails and screen captures.) Now, I have personally gotten a close-up look at the aftermath of the injuries to this little girl’s face, so I can vouch for their nature and severity. When I was told of this, I immediately posted my concerns to the CHW page on Facebook. Here’s what was written, presented for your perusal in its entirety:

     “ALERT – I am bringing this HERE, and will bulldog this issue, even if I have to go to the AMA and the U.S. Surgeon General: CHW Hospital Mercy Medical Center in Merced made a 2 and 1/2 year-old dog attack victim, brought via ambulance to ER, wait over 2 hours in the WAITING ROOM, with severe lacerations to her head, one of which missed the superficial temporal artery by 1mm! HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN!?” “This happened yesterday afternoon. The victim was attacked by a Pit Bull at a local dog park. She was eventually taken by family to CHCC in Madera County, where PROPER care was rendered within MINUTES of their arrival.

CHW JUST BUILT this new facility in our city, yet juvenile cases such as this continue to be mishandled. WHY?”

     Two days later, a reply was posted from whoever runs the page, stating the following:

     “We appreciate your bringing this to our attention, John. This is absolutely not the experience any person should have when seeking care. We are in contact with the president and the chief medical officer of the hospital and will take appropriate steps to help ensure this does not happen again.”

     This was followed immediately by another post, which read:

     “If you would like to speak with someone directly to provide us with more information, please send your contact information to contactus(at)chw.edu.”

     I passed this information along to the girl’s family, and replied in the thread that I would do so. Then, I checked back a few hours later. The two posts above had been removed, and the following had been posted in their place:

     “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, John. We want to assure you that we are committed to the highest standards of care and treatment. Please send us your contact information at contactus(at)chw.edu so we can gather more information about this matter.”

     I immediately posted a reply, inquiring why the original post had been redacted. I also re-posted their original reply to me, in a posting under MY name so that it was clear to everyone reading this exchange what had been redacted. CHW then removed my re-post of their original comment, and posted this in response:

     “Thank you, John. Your care and attention to your friends’ well being is appreciated. We hope you agree that it is in everyone’s best interest to have the family and our caregivers engage in a conversation to better understand the facts. Our original post was removed after it became clear that this was a complaint you were lodging not on behalf of yourself (and so weren’t speaking from direct experience), but on behalf of a friend. It is always our first priority to provide quality, timely care. We are looking forward to connecting your friends with our caregivers for an open conversation.”

     I’ll wrap up the section at this point, but the idea is now clear; CHW was going to take this seriously, but when they determined that this was a second-hand complaint, they down-graded it. When I re-posted their original text, they censored it, yet spoke of “open conversation.”

     Inordinately long waits in the MMC emergency waiting room are no new thing. In 2008, my son came down with pneumonia. He and his wife went to the emergency room, arriving there around 6:00 P.M. I know this because they called me four hours before I got off from work that evening, telling me that they had just arrived there. When I shifted off, I drove past the hospital on my way home. I found them walking down the street towards our complex, only yards away from the hospital parking lot. I asked my son what the doctor had said, however he replied that they had not even seen a triage nurse. This was at 10:05 P.M. I immediately went back down to the hospital with them, and asked the desk nurse why they had been waiting for over four hours to be seen. Upon checking her computer screen, the nurse informed me that my son had only been there for a little over two hours. (In all actuality, they waited almost two hours before inputting his info into the computer!) I immediately took my son 35 miles down to Madera Community, where he was seen and prescribed antibiotics within an hour.

     In 2009, my daughter-in-law was seen at the MMC emergency room for abdominal pain during the early stages of a pregnancy. After waiting over three hours in a chair in the hall, she was finally taken to a room and examined. Emergency room staff completely missed the fact that she was having a miscarriage.

     For an organization that has “showing compassion” in their stated aims, Catholic Healthcare West, an entity associated with the Catholic church, does not appear to be doing such a wonderful job at it. Fostering “open conversation” is also problematic, especially when CHW engages in censorship. Now, I do understand that they are perfectly entitled to post and remove anything they wish in their spaces on the internet, however it still does not speak well for their “modus operandi.”