July 1, 1999
On June 16, the Employer/Employee Relations Subcommittee added the Hoekstra amendment to H.R. 2043 by voice vote. It protects Catholic and other health plans from being forced to violate their religious beliefs or moral convictions. Please support the Hoekstra amendment in full committee.
H.R. 2043 allows physicians to advise patients regarding options that health plans choose not to cover for administrative or fiscal reasons. Without the Hoekstra amendment, however, the bill may inadvertently undermine the ability of Catholic and other health plans to refuse to provide, or reimburse for, advice/counseling sessions which promote "services" inimical to the plan's moral and religious convictions (e.g., abortion and assisted suicide).
This problem is underscored by recent events in Oregon, where state law permits physicians to assist certain patients' suicides. New amendments to the law allow Catholic and other health facilities to prohibit assisted suicides on their premises -- but force them to allow physicians in their facilities to advise patients on how to obtain an assisted suicide, refer for assisted suicide, and even "contract" with the patient to meet elsewhere for an assisted suicide.
Clearly, no federal law should require Catholic health plans to condone and subsidize such advice/counseling sessions. A plan that objects to a particular service, including advice/counseling services, based on religious or moral beliefs, must be able either to prohibit such counseling by doctors in the plan or, at a minimum, to refuse to cover or reimburse for such services so the plan is not implicated in the physician's actions.
Similar conscience protection is included in 1997 provisions on "medical information" governing Medicaid managed care plans (included in the Balanced Budget Act), and in the Clinton Administration's OPM regulation governing federal employees' health plans (issued August 10, 1998).
During Subcommittee markup, some claimed that the Hoekstra amendment is unnecessary and that ERISA already provides adequate protection. This is not the case. ERISA's disclaimer about not requiring plans to cover specific benefits only applies to eligibility requirements created by ERISA itself, not new and more specific enactments on "unrestricted medical advice" such as H.R. 2043. When the full Committee considers H.R. 2043, I urge you to support conscience protection for Catholic and other health plans, as included in the Hoekstra amendment. Thank you for your support.