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Archbishop Kurtz asks Obama for relief from fines against service to the poor

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Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), in D.C., has asked President Barack Obama to temporarily exempt religious institutions from crippling fines if their insurance plans exclude sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives.

Kurtz also asked the President to consider that the U.S. Supreme Court already has agreed to hear two cases related to the mandate created by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). At least 90 cases have been brought to federal courts by individuals and institutions objecting to the imposition of the HHS mandate. Most of the decisions to date have favored those bringing suit.

Kurtz's request comes as the Administration has offered exemptions to numerous people and organizations having difficulty in implementing the ACA. Individuals who faced penalties for not meeting deadlines for enrollment have had deadlines extended. Businesses with 50 or more employees will not be fined if they drop or otherwise do not offer health insurance at all for 2014. After 2014, if these businesses do not offer a health insurance plan, they face a fine of $2,000 a year per employee.

Meanwhile, beginning today organizations such as church-sponsored universities, hospitals and social services, face a fine of $100 per day ($36,500 per year) per employee if they provide health coverage that does not include contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization.

"The result is a regulation that harshly and disproportionately penalizes those seeking to offer life-affirming health coverage in accord with the teachings of their faith. The Administration's flexibility in implementing the ACA has not yet reached those who want only to exercise what has rightly been called our 'First Freedom' under the Constitution," Kurtz said.

“Today, for the first time, many Americans for whom insurance wasn't previously a possibility can say that they are covered. And many folks who had insurance previously just saw their coverage improve: As of today, insurers can no longer cut off benefits when an individual reaches an annual cap. Insurers can no longer charge you more just because of a pre-existing condition or because you are a woman. And health plans sold to individuals or small businesses must offer comprehensive benefits, including things like mental health services and maternity care that plans used to sometimes exclude,” the White House said.

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