'Religious freedom' rule to cost healthcare system $312M, says HHS

Kelly Gooch - Print  | 

The federal government's new "conscience and religious freedom" rule will cost the healthcare system $312.3 million the first year and $125.5 million annually the following four years, according to estimates published by HHS in the Federal Register.

The rule offers protections for healthcare workers with religious or moral objections to abortions, euthanasia and other medical services.

Federal officials said it aims to "ensure that persons or entities are not subjected to certain practices or policies that violate conscience, coerce or discriminate, in violation of such federal laws." A new HHS Office for Civil Rights division will be responsible for compliance and enforcement.

Overall, the government estimates the rule will cost affected individual healthcare entities, including hospitals, an average of $665 the first year and about $266 annually the following four years. The government estimates its own annual cost at $900,000, according to an Associated Press report published by The Washington Post.

In the report, Roger Severino, director of the civil rights office, described the industry requirements as "standard civil rights stuff," and said federal officials are "trying to make the burden as light as possible."

The rule has prompted mixed reactions. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins praised the new division, saying it is "another moment in which President Trump's promises are becoming a reality." However, the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the rule, saying federal officials are "prioritizing providers' beliefs over patients' health and lives. This administration isn't increasing freedom — they're paving the way for discrimination."

The Catholic Health Association of the United States said in a statement although its hospitals do not participate in certain procedures the association is opposed to, such as abortion and euthanasia, "there is no one who is not welcome for the care that we do provide in our hospitals."

"This is a moment where the decency and integrity of the American people should frame the discussion. One more polarized and politicized argument is not going to serve the people of this nation well. CHA looks forward to participating in a productive dialogue on this important issue," said the CHA in the statement.


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