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Ave Maria University ditches student health insurance plans

Catholic school cites new rules, cost, values as reasons for response to requirements in the Affordable Care Act

May 21, 2012   |  
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Federal lawsuits filed Monday

Washington, D.C.
Archdiocese of Washington
Consortium of Catholic Academies
Archbishop Carroll High School
Catholic Charities of D.C.
The Catholic University of America

New York
Diocese of Rockville Centre
Catholic Health Services of Long Island
Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre
Archdiocese of N.Y.
ArchCare

Pennsylvania (Erie)
Diocese of Erie
St. Martin Center
Prince of Peace Center

Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh)
Diocese of Pittsburgh
Catholic Charities of Diocese of Pittsburgh
Catholic Cemeteries Association of Diocese of Pittsburgh

Texas (Dallas)
Diocese of Dallas

Texas (Fort Worth)
Diocese of Fort Worth

Ohio (Columbus)
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Michigan Catholic Conference

Mississippi (Gulfport)
Diocese of Jackson
Catholic Charities of Jackson
Vicksburg Catholic School
St. Joseph’s Catholic School
Diocese of Biloxi
De l’Epee Deaf Center Inc.
Catholic Social & Community Services Inc.
Resurrection Catholic School
Sacred Heart Catholic School
St Dominic Health Services

Indiana (South Bend)
The University of Notre Dame

Indiana (Fort Wayne)
Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend
Catholic Charities of South Bend
St. Anne Home
Franciscan Alliance
Our Sunday Visitor
University of St. Francis

Illinois
Diocese of Joliet
Catholic Charities of Joliet
Diocese of Springfield
Catholic Charities of Springfield

Missouri (St. Louis)
Archdiocese of St. Louis
Catholic Charities of St. Louis

TOTAL: 12 lawsuits, 43 entities.

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Money and morality are the twin reasons Ave Maria University will no longer offer group health insurance plans to students as of Aug. 15.

University President Jim Towey said Monday that students and parents can thank the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will force premiums to skyrocket 66 percent and also mandates no-cost coverage for contraceptive services, including sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs.

Meanwhile, a dozen more federal lawsuits were filed Monday by 43 religious-related entities, seeking to overturn the contraception coverage requirement in President Barack Obama’s embattled health care plan. They include Catholic charities groups, universities, dioceses and Archdioceses ranging from New York to Texas, including the University of Notre Dame.

Ave Maria, which filed its lawsuit in late February, was in the forefront of a groundswell that has grown into a wave of opposition aimed at pressuring the federal government to change its mind. The 12 filed Monday bring the total to 23.

“This is going to increase the stakes in this discussion and bring new light to the importance of religious liberty and how the federal mandate is an assault on it,” Towey said. “This is extraordinary to see so many large Catholic institutions suing the federal government. I’m not sure this has happened in my lifetime.”

The United States Council of Catholic Bishops “finds it unfortunate that the HHS (Health and Human Services Department) mandate forces institutions into this position,” wrote Sister Mary Ann Walsh, council spokeswoman, in an email. “The First Amendment upholds the right to the free exercise of one’s religion. The HHS mandate flies in the face of that.”

In deciding to stop offering student health care insurance, Ave Maria follows Franciscan University in Ohio, which announced last week that it was discontinuing its student plan.

The law does not call for colleges and universities to require students to carry some form of health insurance, or offer students health care plans. But more than half of colleges and universities nationwide offered student insurance plans, according to a 2008 analysis by the federal General Government Accountability Office, and 30 percent required students to have health insurance in order to attend.

The only public state university of 12 in Florida that currently requires students to carry health insurance is Florida State University, Kelly Layman, spokeswoman for the Board of Governors, said in an email.

Ave Maria has required its students to carry health insurance since it opened. “We’re sad about that,” Towey said of the decision to drop it. “It’s unfortunate but it’s a sign of the times,” under the new health care mandates, he said.

Most Ave Maria students are covered under the plans of their parents, but about 15 percent of students use the school-offered policy, Towey said in a statement. “It specifically excludes benefits for elective abortion, sterilization, and other morally objectionable services because the University is Catholic and follows the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Ave Maria was recently informed by its insurance carrier that provisions of the new federal health care law would cause premiums in the university-offered plan to rise from $839 to $1,392, a 66 percent increase, according to the statement. The law requires an increase in the maximum benefit per injury or illness from $50,000 to $100,000. Students would also face an increase in their deductible from $100 to $250 per year.

The university doesn’t make money by offering students health care, Towey said. “We have been a pass-through on this. We don’t make a penny, we don’t spend a penny.” The university collects premiums from students and passes it on to United Health Care, he said.

If the skyrocketing cost was the only issue, the university would probably continue to serve as a go-between on the health insurance and warn students that the cost has gone up, Towey said. But when you couple the cost with the fact that the insurance “would be paying for services inconsistent with Catholic teaching,” The decision to drop it was relatively easy, he said.

He thinks the increased cost of student insurance under the president’s plan will force other colleges and universities not affiliated with a religion to rethink requiring coverage or offering coverage, Towey said. “I think all of them are going to run into the wall on the premium increase. It’s a big jump and will have the feel of a tuition increase.”

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