Hours before the House passed health care reform, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops lobbied lawmakers against a provision that would have allowed an insurance policy to segregate public funds from private premiums that could be used to pay for abortion services. The group maintained that “premiums paid to that plan in the form of taxpayer-funded subsidies help support that abortion coverage even if individual abortion procedures are paid for out of a separate pool of privately-paid premium dollars.” Or, alternatively, if a woman uses federal subsidies to pay for a basic benefit, she would have more private money available to fund her abortion:
While all funds in the public plan begin as private funds, in the pockets of taxpayers and purchasers, they all become federal funds once they are paid to the government (whether paid as taxes or as premiums) – and all abortions in the plan are paid for by the federal government. … So this money-laundering system, aside from making the operation of the public plan more unwieldy, does nothing to address pro-life concerns.”
The organization also rejected a compromise offered by Brad Ellsworth (D-IN), which would have established “clear, strict rules for separating public funds from the premiums of private individuals” and allowed the public option to provide abortion coverage if it hired “a private contractor to pay abortion providers, thus avoiding direct federal payments.” The Bishops maintained that once funds enter the federal treasury, they cannot be properly segregated. If that’s the case, then the organization is, by its very own definition, condemning its very own accounting practices.
The Conference works to “unify, coordinate, encourage, promote and carry on Catholic activities in the United States; to organize and conduct religious, charitable and social welfare work at home and abroad; to aid in education; to care for immigrants; and generally to enter into and promote by education, publication and direction the objects of its being.” The Bishops receive federal grants to finance their “charitable and social work at home and abroad,” but, by law, they must segregate those funds from efforts “to organize and conduct religious” work. In fact, the Bishops provide subgrants to organizations that directly serve disadvantaged individuals and ensure that public funds are not spent on religious purposes. This is a practice that’s strikingly similar to what the public option could have done under the Ellsworth amendment.
If agencies are incapable of properly segregating funds, then perhaps they should stop receiving them.