A religious order of nuns is concerned about its future presence in the United States because of Obamacare’s impact on its charitable operations. The Little Sisters of the Poor told The Daily Caller that it may not qualify for a long-term exemption from Obamacare’s healthcare mandate. The law requires the order to provide government-approved health insurance to its 300 sisters who tend to the elderly in 30 U.S. cities.
The exception is needed, said Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, the Little Sisters’ communications director, because Catholic teaching opposes contraception and medical treatments that cause sterility or can cause abortions.
President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul law requires employers to include those services in qualifying health care plans they provide for their employees. Failure to comply will bring hefty fines — even for religious orders whose members have taken vows of poverty.
“[I]t could be a serious threat to our mission in the U.S.,” Constance told TheDC, “because we would never be able to afford to pay the fines involved. We have difficulty making ends meet just on a regular basis; we have no extra funding that would cover these fines.”
The crux of the matter is a religious exemption that the federal government is expected to make available to Catholic churches, but not to other Catholic institutions.
That’s because unlike Catholic parishes and dioceses, the church’s many affiliated schools, charities, religious orders and hospitals don’t discriminate in their hiring or service, often employing staff — and serving people in need — who come from other Christian denominations or from other faiths entirely.
“We are not exempt from the [Obamacare] mandate because we neither serve nor employ a predominantly Catholic population,” Constance added. ”We hire employees and serve/house the elderly regardless of race and religion, so that makes us ineligible for the exemption being granted churches.”
Those employees, she said, number in the thousands.
“We employ about 100 employees per home; many of them receive their health insurance through us,” Constance explained. “So the financial burden with fines is not primarily for our own insurance coverage, but for theirs, a much bigger dollar amount.”
The one concession the Obama administration made to religious groups like hers was a one-year extension of time before they would be expected to provide their staff with health insurance that met with the White House’s approval. That extension will expire at the end of 2013, but the sisters have only a few weeks left to make their case for an exemption beyond the end of next year.
“We just cannot not say what will happen,” Constance told TheDC. “We are continuing to pray that our backs will not be up against the wall in 2014. If we are forced to make a decision, we will seek concrete direction from the U.S. bishops.”
The Little Sisters of the Poor take care of elderly patients in 31 countries, but on Dec. 16 a representative told the congregation of Saint Raymond of Peñafort Church in Springfield, Va., that her order could conceivably be forced to pull out of the United States if paying fines and penalties is the only alternative to compromising on the doctrines of their religion.