August 28, 2008

The Many Costs of the New HHS Rule Privileging Conscience Over Patients

A couple of good items today worth reading on the proposed Health & Human Services regulations that would allow federal health officials to withdraw funding from all medical providers and services receiving HHS support that do not let employees opt out of providing basic health care services they find objectionable.

First up, in this post at The Hill’s Congress Blog, Judy Waxman, vice president of the National Women’s Law Center, highlights an essential point about the new rule: it doesn’t just affect birth control and abortion, but a whole range of health care services — including end-of-life care and treatment for HIV, depression, infertility and drug addiction.

“It allows any employee of a health care provider working in a program that receives HHS funding to refuse to treat any individual receiving any service — if doing so would violate his or her moral beliefs — without regard for the needs of the patients,” writes Waxman.

Neither does the rule make any reference to existing federal employment law, Title VII, which, as Waxman notes, already “provides a careful balance of protecting the religious beliefs of all employees – including health care providers – while also allowing employers to ensure that patients get access to vital health care services and information.”

It’s really quite astonishing that the Bush administration would seek to implement new regulations — to the costly tune of $44 million — to appease social conservatives during the final months of Bush’s presidency.

Meanwhile, Jesse Taylor, writing at RH Reality Check, questions why conscience should be given more consideration than the medical needs of patients:

There’s a problem with the Department of Health and Human Services’ new regulations allowing for medical professionals – from doctors and nurses to EMTs and pharmacists – to exercise their conscience when it comes to providing not just abortion but all kinds of medical care. The problem isn’t the recognition of conscience itself, but the contention that conscience in a particularly and consistently skewed manner supercedes everything else. [...]

HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt posts the following on his blog:

Is the fear here that so many doctors will refuse that it will somehow make it difficult for a woman to get an abortion? That hasn’t happened, but what if it did? Wouldn’t that be an important and legitimate social statement?

There is no more frightening statement coming out of the mouth of the man who oversees federal guidelines on medical care than this. “Hey, what if it’s hard to get legal medical care? Wouldn’t that be keen?” This isn’t some idle musing – it’s someone with a lot of power musing about the super-awesomeness of the people with your life in their hands getting to decide on the basis of personal morality whether or not you deserve medical care.

Read more: Check out Rachel’s previous analysis and coverage of Leavitt’s shiftiness –


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