ObamaCare

Unlike ‘Hobby Lobby,’ Christian school won’t have to pay fines for noncompliance

Geneva College isn’t “complicit” in providing abortion drugs for students and employees by telling the government it won’t pay for them in its health plan, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week.

The appeals court overturned a district court ruling that found “self-certification” by the Presbyterian school in Pennsylvania violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the school, said in a statement Wednesday it was “seriously considering” appealing the ruling.

The crux of the dispute lies in whether Geneva College “triggers, facilitates, and makes [it] complicit in the provision” of abortion drugs by its insurance company when it registers its religious objections with the government.

The appeals court decision, written by Judge Marjorie Rendell, distinguishes the case from the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, where a for-profit corporation run by an evangelical family was facing the choice of providing health coverage that includes abortion drugs or paying “substantial fines.”

Geneva College, by contrast, is “not faced with a ‘provide’ or ‘pay’ dilemma because they have a third option—notification pursuant to the accommodation—to avoid both providing contraceptive coverage to their employees and facing penalties for noncompliance with the contraceptive coverage requirement,” Rendell wrote.

Self-certification does nothing to trigger abortion-drug coverage, Rendell said: “Federal law, rather than any involvement by the appellees in filling out or submitting the self-certification form, creates the obligation of the insurance issuers and third-party administrators to provide coverage for contraceptive services” under the Affordable Care Act.

Forcing the government itself to facilitate ‘spiritual development’?

Geneva College chooses to avoid complicity in abortion precisely through a “declaration that they will not be complicit in providing coverage” – the self-certification form, Rendell said. “Ultimately, the regulatory notice requirement does not necessitate any action that interferes with the appellees’ religious activities.”

The judge said the college was trying to exercise “a religious veto” against an insurance company’s legal requirement to provide contraceptive coverage.

Rendell used the hypothetical example of a man who takes time off work on a religious holiday but refuses to submit a “time-off request” because it would make him complicit in someone else working on that religious holiday, in violation of his beliefs.

The decision cites a Supreme Court precedent involving American Indian objections to the use of a Social Security number to get welfare benefits. The high court said in the Bowen decision: “Never to our knowledge has the Court interpreted the First Amendment to require the Government itself to behave in ways that the individual believes will further his or her spiritual development or that of his or her family.”

Rendell said the district court was “misguided” in accepting Geneva College’s claim that its self-certification was the “central cog” that enabled students and employees to get abortion drugs.

Because it has “dispelled the notion that the self-certification procedure is burdensome,” the appeals court “need not consider whether the burden is substantial” on the college, according to the opinion.

Rendell also said the judges wouldn’t consider whether self-certification was the “least restrictive means” of providing abortion drugs to women. That’s part of the legal standard known as strict scrutiny, which courts apply when considering infringements on constitutional rights.

“Geneva College simply wants to abide by the Christian faith it espouses and teaches instead of being forced into an unacceptable inconsistency by the government,” Alliance Defending Freedom said after the ruling. “The administration has no business punishing people of faith for making decisions consistent with that faith.”

Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)

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IMAGE: American Life League/Flickr

Unless they have the university health plan, students are on the hook for a ‘sustainable model’

Students at Cornell University are feeling the after-effects of Obamacare: a new $350 student health fee if they opt out of the university health plan, even if they have separate insurance plans.

Announced last week by President David Skorton, the news spurred a series of rallies on campus, the Twitter hashtag #FightTheFee and an accompanying Twitter handle, which encouraged students to “pack” Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting.

The new health fee would “impact approximately 70 percent of undergraduates, 30 percent of professional and 10 percent of graduate students,” Skorton said in a Feb. 5 statement.

In light of the rise of health services costs, Cornell is restructuring the finances of its Student Health Insurance Plan, or SHIP.

Students who do not opt in to the $2,352 plan will get hit with the $350 fee, which “most likely” won’t be covered by financial aid, according to The Cornell Review. The newspaper said the university plan is run through Aetna, whose CEO is a Cornell MBA grad.

“The current funding approach for student health services relies on central university resources, funds from SHIP for services delivered to its members, and fees charged at the time of services to individuals,” Skorton wrote.

Skorton said in the Feb. 5 statement Cornell’s health services funding has been “strained” in light of rising health insurance costs. Additionally, students will have a $10 co-pay for visits to the campus’ health center, Gannett.

Universities ‘have to find more pockets and that’s what they’re doing’

The rise of health insurance costs is a perpetual trend in the marketplace, and the rising costs specifically at Cornell are a secondary result of the Affordable Care Act, Ed Haislmaier, a health policy researcher at the Heritage Foundation, told The College Fix in an interview.

“From a health policy analysis, [Cornell] has a health center that offers more than a nurse,” Haislmaier said. “They are in the healthcare delivery business now, and that is a fixed cost.”

Haislmaier said that “institutions are going to lose revenue to cover costs” under public and nonprofit models.

Covering costs “has made a lot of university-sponsored student plans more expensive. [Universities] have to find more pockets and that’s what they are doing — they are essentially broadening their tax base,” Haislmaier said.

The fee announcement provoked about 150 students on Monday to occupy Cornell’s main administrative building, Day Hall, as well as Skorton’s office, according to the Review.

Protesters confronted the president, who “reportedly engaged in testy exchanges with several students regarding their grievances against him and the University.”

Protesters across campus shared their outrage about not just the new health fee but also existing financial burdens and “poor treatment of low-level employees,” the Review reported.

They complained about the lack of “shared governance” between the administration and students, as well as alleged bully-like tactics used by university officials to keep Cornell Student Assembly members from leaking further information about the $350 fee.

Paying off old debt

#FightTheFee Outside Media, the public face of the student protesters, accused Cornell of “false” claims that the entire student health fee revenue would go toward student services.

“In reality, only $175 of the fee would go to increasing health services and reducing copays; $75 would go to paying off Gannett debt owed to other internal university funds; and the final $100 would go towards ‘future deficits from increased health services’ – presumably including the planned 55 million-dollar expansion of Gannett’s building,” the group said in a press release.

Implementation of the fee would generate an estimated $3.9 million, which would help to fund the $55 million Gannett Health Services building expansion and renovation, according to the Review.

“Administrators have bullied the [Student Assembly] into not revealing other ‘confidential’ information that might expose the corruption of the University, as made evident by an email from SA President Sarah Balik leaked on social media yesterday night,” #FightTheFee Outside Media’s press release stated.

In spite of student backlash, the administration is doubling down on its financial decision.

Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy said in a Wednesday statement “the fee is necessary to create a sustainable model for health services while also increasing accessibility and protecting student privacy.”

“It is our responsibility to work together, to make sure everyone in our community who needs help gets it. That is a burden, and a benefit, we all share,” Murphy said.

College Fix reporter Matthew Boyer is a student at Rutgers University.

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IMAGE: Chris Bentley/Flickr

OPINION

From the Urban Dictionary: Grubered [Gr-oob-ered] Verb. To mislead the public into believing lies to get ideological laws passed. Example: The President really Grubered us on that healthcare bill.

Remember the Affordable Care Act? It’s not so affordable anymore. The government is forcing us young people to pay an average of $2,000 a year for comprehensive health care we don’t need at a time when we can barely find good jobs.

MIT scholar and “Obamacare architect” Jonathan Gruber infamously admitted the mandate passed because officials relied on “the stupidity of the American voter.” Thus the term “Grubered” was born.

Now it’s happening again.

President Obama is trying to Gruber us into this new “free” community college plan. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Contrary to popular belief, the best things in life aren’t free – and I’m not talking about the occasional ice cream or hot dog. When the government is the entity offering free things, something sinister is at hand.

Obama’s “free” plan will actually cost taxpayers an estimated $60 billion—75 percent funded by the feds and 25 percent funded by opting-in states, over a 10-year period. The financial burden is just being shifted from college students to society as a whole. But we young people will ultimately be left with the tab.

Luckily, Obama’s free college plan may never pass—and he knows it; yet another reason to assert your skepticism. This is one of several propositions the president has on his agenda, not to get passed, but to use as tools to demonize Republicans as 2016 approaches.

The biggest problem with our higher education system is the expensive cost, thanks to the unfettered plethora of government loans given to students, prompting greedy administrators to ratchet up tuition exponentially. Offering “free” community college will just result in higher tuition.

What’s more, community college is already affordable. In my home state of Michigan, it’s less than $100 per credit hour.

Even with a four-year degree, it’s not a given that graduates will be prepared for the workforce. A recent report by the Wall Street Journal pointed out that 40 percent of college students graduate without the reasoning skills to adequately work white-collar jobs. So why would we consider a free two-year degree as a solution to society’s woes if a bachelor’s degree isn’t even preparing students for the workforce?

Obama’s plan also snubs vital vocational colleges. His plan extends only to public community colleges and excludes technical schools. What a horrible caveat.

It’s time for society to quit ushering every person into a four-year college education. Not everyone is meant for college—and that’s okay. Instead, society and the government should also urge those seeking a post-high school education to consider technical schools or other options that teach entrepreneurial skills, both areas where there are jobs.

As it stands, young people are going to school for four to six years to study topics such as women’s studies and art history, subjects that don’t exactly translate into jobs.

Look, I went to a community college before transferring to the University of Michigan. I even recommended my sister go to community college. It’s ideal for the student who doesn’t quite know what they want to study yet or the student who has their eye on a two or four-year degree.

But this doesn’t mean community college is a springboard to a prosperous society.

Sure, the program would help underprivileged families put their kids through college, but it also will give students who can get by a free ride on the taxpayer dime. Plus, there are already federal programs through FAFSA to help struggling students along the way.

Community college, or any college, is not some deus ex machina to success, and Obama’s plan is not some benevolent policy. Don’t be Grubered, again.

College Fix reporter Derek Draplin is a student at the University of Michigan, editor of the Michigan Review, and a Student Free Press Association Spring 2015 journalism fellow at the Detroit News.

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IMAGES: James Good/Flickr

Remember the lady who flubbed the Affordable Care Act roll out so badly that she resigned in disgrace? Ohio State wants to give the Obamacare flunky one of its highest honors.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – an Ohio native – has been tapped to receive an honorary degree by the college’s Committee on Honorary Degrees and its University Senate, and Ohio State’s board of trustees is set to vote on the matter Friday.

The recommendation to the board gushed in part that “as Secretary, Ms. Sebelius led ambitious efforts to improve America’s health and enhance the delivery of human services to some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations, including young children, those with disabilities, and the elderly.”

Try not to choke on your coffee when you read the resolution’s next line:

“In addition, Ms. Sebelius was committed to ensuring that America continues to lead the world in innovation.”

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To be fair, she had a distinguished career before the Obamacare fiasco. But it’s hard to forget how she went out.

Adding salt to the wound, Columbus Business First reports that “the honorary degree proposal came out in Monday’s Ohio State board of trustees’ agenda. That was the same day Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sued the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act. DeWine, Warren County and four Ohio universities said in a federal lawsuit that $6.25 million in Affordable Care Act taxes on self-funded health insurance plans for public workers are unconstitutional.”

UPDATE: Got this on Twitter, thought I’d share:

Jennifer Kabbany is editor of The College Fix (@JenniferKabbany)

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IMAGE: United Nations Office at Geneva, Switzerland

In an article titled “The five dumbest health care statements of 2014,” Robert I. Field, professor at Drexel’s School of Law and School of Public Health, offers up a ridiculously partisan quinary of “winners” for the topic in question.

Most astonishingly, perhaps, is number two on Field’s list: “The stupidity of the American voter was critical to passing Obamacare.”

It’s not that the statement wasn’t dumb … it certainly was — on the part of Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber. It was a dumb thing to say in public, because it brings forth the truth that the Affordable Care Act was sold to the public based on lies — especially the big one, PolitiFact’s 2013 Lie of the Year.

Regarding those lies, like Gruber himself, Professor Field thinks we’re stupid:

It’s not American voters who were stupid but Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist and key adviser in the crafting of Obamacare, who made that statement. Although he said it in 2013 at a conference at the University of Pennsylvania, it reached a broad audience this past November when a Philadelphia man found a video of it online and posted it for wide dissemination.

Obamacare passed because of a desire by Democrats to reduce the number of uninsured Americans. It is an extremely complicated law, just like Medicare, Medicaid, and President George W. Bush’s Medicare expansion in 2003. None of those laws passed because voters were too stupid to understand their subtleties. Their complexity was not the result of attempts at deception but responses to the underlying complexity of health care. It’s a good thing Professor Gruber doesn’t teach political science.

“… not the result of attempts at deception …”??

You mean like … the individual mandate is not a tax increase? That the ACA would reduce premiums by $2,500 for a family of four? But, most especially, “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor — period“?

This doesn’t even address how President Obama and Nancy Pelosi suddenly “didn’t know” about Jonathan Gruber after his revealing ACA comments came to light — even though they obviously do know him. (Obama: “some adviser who never worked on our staff …” Pelosi: “I don’t know who he is.”)

It’s one thing to be a rank partisan, Professor Field, but please don’t pull a Gruber and insult our collective intelligence — again.

Read the full Philly.com article.

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Four Christian colleges and a group of nuns are at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver today, arguing that the Obama administration should not mess with their health plans to provide abortion drugs to their employees, the Associated Press reports.

Oklahoma’s Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Mid-America University and Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and Colorado’s Little Sisters of the Poor, believe that signing away their coverage to another party makes them “feel complicit in providing the contraceptives,” the AP says.

A bit of humor in this legal fight:

The nuns’ lawyer, Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said the government is free to provide contraception coverage on its own without needing any action at all by the religious institutions. The government, he said, simply wants such coverage to come through the institutions’ own plans.

“It’s our plan, that’s what they want to control,” Rienzi said.

“Millions of people around the world get contraceptives with no nuns involved. It’s almost laughable.”

Read the AP story.

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