It is no April Fool's Day joke, Obamacare actually pulled it off getting Americans to sign up for health insurance through the federal government. As it was reported in MSN News by the Associated Press, over 6 million people signed up for health insurance available through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Originally projecting at least 7 million people signing up for a health insurance plan, the federal government recalculated that number to a lower amount and altered the enrollment end date another six months out to March 31, 2014. Yesterday was the deadline for open enrollment, and the avalanche of traffic to the federal website was record high to the amount that the website crashed a couple of times in the early morning hours. Nevertheless, it was reported that not only did the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) meet and exceed their projected signups for enrollment in private health care plans but another 3.4 million people were able to enroll in their state Medicaid program. While this looks good on paper, the reality is that another 45 million Americans did not enroll in a government-sponsored health care plan through healthcare.gov which means they may have to pay the penalty.
While the government rejoices in their success, the Roman Catholic Church and affiliated non-profit groups are not celebrating the advent of Obamacare. Instead, they are faced with the reality of trying to reconcile how their religious beliefs are compromised by requirements in the Affordable Healthcare Act that require them to provide contraception to their employees. Monday, March 31 brought a big blow to the Catholic University, Priests for Life, and other Roman Catholic groups who brought two cases to the United States Supreme Court in opposition of contraceptives. According to Reuters, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petitions to hear Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Sebelius and Priests for Life v. U.S. Because the high court denied these cases, they are sent back to the states where the the state supreme courts will make a decision. Under the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, employers are required to provide health care services to their employees which includes contraceptives. The Catholic Church has a long history of opposition to birth control citing religious reasons for their beliefs although they do provide information about family planning for individuals who want to make informed decisions about parenthood.
For many years the Catholic Church was able to maintain their position without intervention citing religious freedom protected through the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The petitioners challenged the contraception mandate arguing that as an employer that the Catholic Church should qualify for an exemption in their insurance policies to not provide birth control such as oral contraceptives and sterilization. Although churches may be exempt from changing their health care insurance policies for Catholic employees working solely at the church, the exemption does not apply to employees working at the Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities. Considering that the policy applies to providing contraceptives for females and that the employees at the church are most likely priests who are male, it is a moot issue in that location. The real problem for the Catholic Church is at other locations where lay people are employed. For example, it is not a requirement that their employees be practicing Roman Catholics to work at a hospital, so the church may have to provide birth control for a female employee even though in doing so goes against their religious beliefs. This is a conundrum not only for the Catholic Church but also for the states who have to decide if the contraception mandate violates the First Amendment or not.
In regards to people signing up for health insurance through Obamacare, the good news for the federal government is enough people enrolled in a health care plan yesterday which means there is enough financial support from the American public to get national healthcare officially off the ground. The downside is that 43 million people did not enroll in a healthcare plan which means that the government does not have enough political support behind them. What this means is that in the short-term, it looks good on paper especially a few years away from the next Presidential election. What this means in the long-term is that the executive branch has some work to do if they are going to get more people to take advantage of the next open enrollment period. There were a variety of reasons why more Americans did not sign up and select a health care plan. Some said they could not afford even the cheapest plan and will just pay the penalty. Others earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and do not believe they will use enough services through the plan to make it worthwhile. What these otherwise overall healthy people may not realize is that the CBO has their own fail-safe built into the Affordable Healthcare Act, the penalty increases every year they do not sign up. Fees and other penalties may also apply for employers such as the Catholic Church should the state court not rule in their favor and if they do not make changes to existing policies. That for sure will be no April Fool's Day joke.