With Plan B on the list of drugs that must be covered under Health and Human Services’ new regulations, a number of religious business-owners are suing the government.
Does health care reform mean forcing family businesses run by Christians to pay for drugs and procedures they believe are immoral, including drugs like the “morning after pill,” Plan B, and Ella, a derivative of the abortion drug RU-486? Are life-ending drugs more important than life-saving ones?
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the answer is yes. Let me share the reasons why we firmly believe that decision is wrong, indeed, at odds with our country’s finest traditions, and the terrible predicament in which this mandate has placed my family.
Since I founded Autocam in 1988, my family has sought to operate the company in keeping with our deeply held religious beliefs.
We have always treated our employees well because our faith teaches us that each person is made in God’s image. Consequently, we offer high wages and exceptional benefits even in tough economic times.
No Autocam employee pays a premium for our award-winning health care plan provided he or she participates in our wellness program, as do 91 percent of employees. We provide 100 percent coverage of preventive care. Other benefits include $1,500 in matching funds dollar for dollar in each employee’s health savings account (HSA) toward an annual deductible of $2,000 (single plan) or $4,000 (family plan).
Motivated by that same religiously inspired respect for human dignity, we’ve ensured that our benefit plan does not fund services, including contraception, sterilization and abortion, that are prohibited by our beliefs. Our faith requires that we draw this line. Otherwise, we’d be writing monthly checks for drugs and procedures that we believe are wrong.
We’ve strived to respect our employees’ freedom while remaining true to ourselves and our faith. But, sadly, times have changed. By requiring Autocam to pay for all FDA-approved contraceptives, the HHS mandate forces us to pay not only for contraceptives but also sterilization and “emergency contraception” like Plan B, Ella, and IUDs. The latter are designed to reduce the probability of conception and, if conception occurs, to prevent the embryo from attaching to the wall of the womb, which we believe terminates a human life. Thus, my family’s current options are each unthinkable: 1) cancel our benefits plan; 2) bankrupt Autocam; or 3) violate our conscience.
Some have recommended that we drop our benefits to avoid the vicious predicament we face. It looks like an easy way out. Terminating our plan would save approximately $5.6 million, even after paying the fine for dropping coverage.
This option, however, would be like throwing our employees to the wolves. Lacking the tax advantages of employer-sponsored coverage, our employees could not secure comparable coverage, even if we added the money saved to their paychecks.
Similarly, we would gladly sacrifice personally to be able to continue our current plans, though we don’t believe our beliefs warrant punishment. But that’s not an option according to the federal government. Our only other choice is no choice at all, because it’s simply impossible for us to bear the fines imposed for noncompliance: $100 per day per employee, or about $20 million per year. Autocam would quickly collapse, destroying our employees’ livelihoods and forcing us to abandon our lifelong vocation.
In comparison, compliance with the mandate bears a relatively minimal price tag, about $100,000 per year. But the moral cost is incalculable: We believe that financing these drugs and procedures jeopardizes our very salvation. This is not about money. So what is it about?
The specious rhetoric of the “war on women” conflates coverage with access, yet such bombast has no application to our situation. Though we object to the mandated coverage and counseling, we do not seek to interfere with access. By offering excellent wages and benefits, including generous contributions to employee HSAs, the plan already permits employees to purchase all mandated services.
Even committed advocates of contraception, so-called emergency contraception, and sterilization should admit that forcing employers to purchase these services is far from the only option available. If the goal is truly to improve access, why ignore the many alternatives that do not burden the religious liberties of American families?
Moreover, the mandate reflects false priorities. The Obama administration has mandated 100 percent coverage for these controversial drugs. Similar provisions for medically necessary drugs like insulin or heart medications are entirely absent. If women’s health is truly the priority, why not mandate full coverage of life-sustaining insulin rather than life-ending drugs?
Even those who disagree with our beliefs should pause and consider whether such large claims for federal administrative power will not force them to pick their own poison in due time. If the government can force a hospital, school, or business to pay for drugs at odds with our deepest moral values, what else can be coerced?
Our nation is at its best when we practice genuine tolerance and respect our constitutional freedoms. Our nation is at its worst when those in power compel compliance with highly controversial mandates demonstrating ruthless disregard for the dignity of their fellow man and the religious freedom enshrined in our First Amendment.
John Kennedy is founder and CEO of Autocam and Autocam Medical, two global manufacturing companies headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Kennedys are plaintiffs in Autocam v. Sebelius, one of 43 cases with over 110 plaintiffs challenging the HHS mandate.