Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate, said Tuesday afternoon that he doesn't know if President Obama's revised contraception mandate violates the religious liberty of self-insured religious institutions, such as some hospitals, universities, and the Catholic church in Washington, D.C.
"That is the remaining question in my mind--the risk plans, the self-insured," Durbin told THE WEEKLY STANDARD following the Senate Democrats weekly luncheon. "I want to know how they're treated. I've asked that."
Last Friday, President Obama announced a revision to his mandate, saying that the insurers of religious institutions, not the religious institutions themselves, would provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to beneficiaries "free of charge." Many scholars and other public figures rejected the revision as a meaningless "cheap accounting trick" that still leaves religious institutions providing services they find morally objectionable. But the president didn't even try to explain how this alleged "accommodation" would protect self-insured religious organizations, such as the Catholic church in Washington, D.C.
"In order to provide insurance consistent with our religious beliefs, our health benefit plan is a self-insured plan that extends coverage to 3,600 employees," Cardinal Donald Wuerl wrote in a letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington over the weekend. "[L]ike Aetna or Blue Cross, the archdiocese and other self-insured religious organizations would be required to both provide and pay for drugs and procedures we consider morally wrong in our employee health plans." (The HHS mandate's exemption for houses of worship does not apply to the Archdiocese of Washington because it insures many non-Catholic employees.)
Durbin said he doesn't know what, if anything, needs to be done to protect self-insured religious institutions. "I don't know. I need to know the answer," he said. "The same question's been raised to me, and I don't know."