New York – Orthodox Groups Protest U.S. Decision On Health Benefits


    New York – Two Orthodox groups protested the Obama administration’s decision to amend regulations that would require faith-based groups to cover “religiously objectionable medical services.”

    Agudath Israel of America on Wednesday and the Union of Orthodox Congregations on Tuesday released statements criticizing the action taken Jan. 20 by the Department of Health and Human Services.

    As part of the Affordable Care Act, employer-provided health insurance plans are required to include contraception and related “preventive” services for employees, but there is an exemption in the law for houses of worship and other religious institutions.

    Both Agudath Israel and the Orthodox Union were hoping the administration would expand the exemption for other religious organizations that do not necessarily fall into the category of houses of worship.

    Full story at The JTA

    Full Press release from the OU:

    The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – criticized the decision announced late last Friday by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services denying requests to respect the conscience of religiously affiliated organizations in what benefits they are compelled to provide in their employees’ health insurance plans.

    The Affordable Care Act requires that employer-provided health insurance plans must include contraception and related “preventative” services to employees free of charge. The law provides an exemption from this requirement to houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is religious.

    A diverse coalition of religious groups and institutions petitioned the Administration to expand this exemption to include a broader spectrum of religiously affiliated institutions. On Friday, the Obama Administration declined this request and ruled that, after one year, religious entities that employ people of other faiths on their staff or provides services to people of other faiths must include contraception and other preventative services in their employee insurance plans.

    OU Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament issued the following statement commenting on the Administration action:

    In declining to expand the religious exemption within the healthcare reform law, the Obama Administration has disappointingly failed to respect the needs of religious organizations such as hospitals, social welfare organizations and more.

    Most troubling, is the Administration’s underlying rationale for its decision, which appears to be a view that if a religious entity is not insular, but engaged with broader society, it loses its “religious” character and liberties. Many faiths firmly believe in being open to and engaged with broader society and fellow citizens of other faiths. The Administration’s ruling makes the price of such an outward approach the violation of an organization’s religious principles. This is deeply disappointing. The Orthodox Union will support legislation in Congress to reverse this policy.

    Full Press release from Agudah:

    In response to the HHS decision, Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Federal Government Affairs and Washington Director, said:

    Agudath Israel of America is deeply disappointed by HHS’s refusal to amend its regulations that require health insurance plans provided by most religious employers to cover what they deem to be religiously-objectionable medical services. We believe that this mandate, which is binding on all faith-based entities other than a narrowly confined group of religious institutions, offends First Amendment principles.

    But the concerns implicated by the agency’s rules go far beyond the scope of the specific employers and procedures involved here. The religious rights of faith-based entities vis-à-vis their employees is becoming one of the prominent religious liberty issues of our time and is manifest in a number of areas. Perhaps chief among them is its appearance within the medical context – both the religious rights of religious employers regarding coverage of religiously-objectionable medical services for their employees, as well as the religious rights of medical providers regarding provision of such services to their patients.

    The Obama Administration had an opportunity to declare that there is a fundamental American value at stake here – religious freedom – and provide strong and unequivocal protections to religious employers. Instead, it took a step backwards by imposing religiously-objectionable mandates on countless religious entities, and by devising a cramped limitation on what “religious groups” are and what their public mission in society should be.

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    1. I fail to see how someone can object to this “on religious grounds.” The shul/yeshiva/non-profit org provides health insurance to its paid employees. The health insurance carriers provide the medical services, whether it is birth control pills or diabetes meds.

      • For example, how could a frum organization pay for hospitalization if the hospital did not provide kosher food or if the patient’s family asked for the doctors to forego ‘life extension’ treatment to a terminally ill patient. This would make the organization complicit in violations of halacha.

        • this can lead to many others seeking exception

          some do not believe in live extension at all cost should people with that believe be exempt from providing care

          some do not believe in IVF should that be exempt to from people organization who hold that believe?

          why should those people that is objectionable to them will Agudath Israel of America defend that right too? I wonder

    2. I find this to be a little bit interesting. Agudah has been out in force (and I’ve spoken to one of their higher-ups to verify this) to promote certain mandates on all insurance companies, such as mandatory coverage for IVF and other procedures that fit into the frum lifestyle.

      Now that the government is listening to other groups who have other wants and desires for mandates, the Agudah is against them. How will they defend supporting certain mandates, but being against others? It makes them look disingenuous. It’s like they’re saying “gimme gimme gimme” until it’s something they disagree with, at which point they choose to object.

      Not only that, but the Agudah is well-aware that there are certain situations where birth control is mandated under Halacha. So, what’s the problem here?

      Basically, the Agudah is in a no-win situation and should have therefore reserved comments on this particular mandate, because there was only a downside to publishing a statement against this particular mandate.

    3. To #1, I have to assume the requirement is to have those items dispensed (available) at the work place. That may make the religious institutions uncomfortable. Otherwise I would agree with you.

      • No, that is not what it is about. The regulation requires the organization to provide employees with insurance policies that cover contraception and related services. It is up to the employee to decide whether or how to use these services, just like with current insurance policies. There is no requirement that any prescriptions or medical services be provided at the workplace, just that they be covered by insurance. While this would have minimal impact on Jewish organizations, the real issue has always been Catholic institutions. There are hundreds of thousands of employees of Catholic hospitals, schools, and charities, and they have been denied birth control coverage even if they are not Catholic.

        Regarding Comment #4, the frum organization pays at least part of the fee to the insurance company. It is up to the employee to follow halacha in medical treatment (assuming a Jewish employee). Now, if a frum organization’s insurance provider only covered a hospital that made following halacha impossible, then you have an interesting point. However, it doesn’t seem very likely that this would happen.

    4. Of course its in the Unaffordable Care Act. So is lots of other manure that we will have to pay for in higher taxes and higher prices on everything. Of course libs don’t understand simple economics so they think companies absorb costs instead of passing it directly to the consumers!

      • Progressive yidden also understand that the big mitzvah of tikun olam includes assuring that everyone, including both yidden and goyim, have equal access to basic health care.

    5. I think everyone here is missing the broader point. It is not this particular issue that the OU and agudah is up in arms about. It is the Obama administrations’s definition of what constitutes a religous organization in regards to separation of church and state. Basically this sets a precedent for the U.S. government to constrict the religous liberties of institutions they don’t deem religous. This is very dangerous. But I don’t want to ruin your rip Agudah party, so pray continue.

      • That’s a fair point, but take it in context. The Agudah has long advocated for more and more governmental expansions into more and more areas. And everyone smiled and patted themselves on the back. Now that the beast has grown so big that it even threatens to redefine the very meaning of a religious organization, the Agudah is suddenly trying to tamp it down.

        Ironic, no?

    6. Does that mean the a frei Yid can’t buy non-emergency drugs or doctor’s visits on Shabbos? That all meds must be kosher l Pesach to be covered? Good grief, where does it end?

    7. Save yourself the trouble. If allowed, I’ll re-post it here.


      From the Rubashkin tragedy thru the present, you have not missed an opportunity to publicly gloat at the orthodox legal travails.

      Nobody is saying that in theory you are incorrect. But the glee that drools from your posts goes way beyond the parameters of the decency you espouse.

      I would not be surprised in the least if upon your arrival in Heaven you berated Mama Rochel for stealing her father’s statues!

      Consider repenting while you can. I don’t think you’d want your final Judgement to be ruled by the harsh standards with which you judge others.

      • “Consider repenting while you can. I don’t think you’d want your final Judgement to be ruled by the harsh standards with which you judge others.”

        I find your concern for the souls of other people very touching.

    8. Sorry, I’m not getting this. There are many Orthodox Rabbanim who give heterim for birth control under certain circumstances. Methods where the woman is the one taking the action are preferred, since the mitzvah of Pru Urvu was given to the men. Therefore, prescription birth control pills are not always against halacha.

    9. To #1, I have to assume the requirement is to have those items dispensed (available) at the work place. That may make the religious institutions uncomfortable. Otherwise I would agree with you.


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