October 21, 2011
Nebraska U.S. Senator Mike Johanns,
along with Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, spearheaded a letter to Health and
Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius protesting her agency’s
regulation that would specifically include contraceptives and sterilization
in mandated insurance coverage for "preventive services." Twenty-six other
Republican senators signed onto the letter.
The message to the Secretary is spot-on correct.
In part it states:
"Whatever the merits of your description of
IOM’s (Institute of Medicine) objectivity, relying on IOM does not absolve
you of your own obligation as a pubic servant, and a Senate-confirmed
executive-branch officer, to consider the ramifications that IOM’s
recommendation would have on religious persons and institutions."
"Ultimately, our concern is with the lack of
due consideration given by you and your Department to the adverse impact
that IOM’s recommendations would have on our core constitutional value of
The Johanns-Hatch letter also quotes from comments
submitted by the Catholic Bishops of Kansas in objection to the
preventive-services mandate, which stems from provisions of the federal
health-care-reform legislation. Earlier in her political career, the HHS
Secretary was the Governor of Kansas. Included in the quoted statements is
the Bishops’ description of the policy proposal as the "heavy-handed
exercise of federal power."
In addition to Senator Johanns’ involvement, U.S.
Representative Jeff Fortenberry from Nebraska’s First Congressional District
is the co-introducer of legislation that seeks to trump the coercive impact
of the preventive-services mandate and restore respect for religious liberty
and rights of conscience.
Terrific Civics Lesson
It appears probable that the U.S. Supreme Court
will hear arguments on the constitutionality of a key part of the Patient
Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, federal health-care reform
legislation, during its current term, which runs until next June. Less than
a month ago, the U.S. Justice Department, on the side of upholding the law,
decided not to appeal the decision of a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals to the full court. That set up an appeal to the
Supreme Court, which is likely to take the case, because there are different
appellate decisions in different circuits. And, there might be a ruling
prior to the 2012 General Election.
The provision of the law being most specifically
reviewed and decided is that which would require all Americans who have
taxable income to certify by 2014 that they have health insurance and if
they don’t, they would be subject to a tax penalty. Whether or not the law
in its entirety is at stake is speculative at best.
Last June, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
sided with the Obama Administration and ruled that the provision is
constitutional. In mid-August, the 11th Circuit’s decision was that the
insurance-or-penalty requirement is unconstitutional. In early September,
the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit tossed out two challenges to the
law on various grounds, including lack of standing on the part of the
Attorney General of Virginia. Yet pending is a ruling from the D.C. Circuit.
Moreover, the current score at the District Court level, according to a
report by the Wall Street Journal, is three decisions that uphold the law
and two that don’t.
Big issues aside, PPACA is evolving into a great
civics lesson, involving the roles and power of all three branches of
government: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. What’s more,
interpretations of the U.S. Constitution on a matter as pervasive as health
care constitute a fascinating dimension of the public-policy processes.
And finally, from another realm…. Do you think
some of those snooty Big-Ten-Conference traditionalists paid attention to
the fact that newcomer Nebraska already has won its first conference
championship? Kudos to NU’s speech and debate team. The margin of victory
nearly doubled the score of runner-up Northwestern. Some Big-Ten old-timers
probably assumed Nebraska was just a volleyball and football school.
You can contact Jim at the
Nebraska Catholic Conference, 215 Centennial
Suite 310, Lincoln, NE 68508;