Xavier University cancels birth control coverage

Posted on April 2, 2012

Cincinnati.com, April 2, 2012 by Janice Morse

Xavier University is discontinuing birth-control insurance coverage for its employees, the university announced Monday.

The university did not say how long the coverage had been provided, but it will stop July 1.

Debora Del Valle, university spokeswoman, said the change pertains to employees only, not students. The university employs about 950 faculty and staff, but some of those people may have outside insurance. It was unclear how many employees would be affected, she said.

A number of faculty and staff members declined to comment for this story Monday, citing the sensitive, highly political nature of the topic of contraceptive insurance coverage – a focus of much national debate in recent months.

In a letter posted on the university website, Xavier President Michael J. Graham said discussion of President Barack Obama’s proposals on mandatory contraception coverage prompted him to review existing health-insurance coverage at the university. Obama’s health-care law requires insurers to cover “preventive care” at no cost to the consumer.

The government classifies birth control as preventive care.

Graham noted that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently finalized a mandate that takes effect next year which requires that Catholic universities offer health insurance plans that provide coverage “for items the Church finds morally problematic,” including contraception and sterilization.

Last month, Obama announced a compromise that puts the burden on insurers, not institutions, to provide the coverage. Although women’s groups generally favored that idea, Catholic bishops have taken a strong stance against the birth-control mandate.

Graham wrote that the compromise Obama advanced “is insufficient for a number of reasons, and it is likely that the constitutional issue of religious freedom at the heart of this controversy will be decided by the courts.”

Graham concluded that, “absent a legal mandate, it is inconsistent for a Catholic institution to cover those drugs and procedures which the church opposes.”

Therefore, Graham directed the Office of Human Resources to work with the university’s insurance carrier, Humana, “to no longer cover sterilizations and contraceptives, except for cases of medical necessity for non-contraceptive purposes.”

Chris Hale, a recent Xavier graduate who now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, recognizes the decision will affect many people, but he lauded Graham for “his efforts to uphold the university’s Jesuit and Catholic identity.”

“I do not see how Father Graham – as a Catholic priest and as the president of a Catholic university – could have acted in any other manner,” Hale wrote via email. “In his role as a priest and president, Father Graham has both the moral and formal obligation to protect the university’s Jesuit and Catholic values – including the Church’s teachings regarding contraception.”

“As a proud alumnus of Xavier, I pray that all involved be careful to not use inflammatory rhetoric to disparage others and their deeply-held positions on this issue,” Hale said.

In February, The Enquirer reported that as many as 75,000 workers throughout Greater Cincinnati – about 12 percent of those who have insurance through their jobs – lacked contraceptive insurance. Many of them work at hospitals, doctors’ offices, universities or other large Catholic institutions at which reproductive services violate the church’s ethical and religious directives. Those companies have long had to balance how to follow Catholic beliefs, yet also fit in with federal programs and serve employees who may be non-Catholics.

Enquirer reporter Cliff Peale and the Associated Press contributed.

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