Vail Daily columnist Butch Mazzuca: Obama’s shell game with Catholic Church |

Vail Daily columnist Butch Mazzuca: Obama’s shell game with Catholic Church

Butch Mazzuca
Vail, CO, Colorado

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees our right to practice religion free from government interference, a matter that will be adjudicated in June when the Supreme Court renders its decision on the constitutionality of Obamacare.

With that in mind, this commentary will examine why some believe President Obama violated the First Amendment rights of the Catholic church by forcing it to provide contraceptive products for its employees.

Let’s look at the facts. Statistics tell us the majority of Catholic women use contraception. At the same time, however, the use of contraceptives is contrary to church dogma.

Meanwhile, President Obama contends he’s not violating the First Amendment by forcing the church to provide for these products because he claims the church will not have to pay for them. Rather, under Obamacare, he told us the insurance company would provide these products for free.

But here’s the problem: Clear-thinking adults understand that no product or service is free. Someone, somewhere has to pay for research, development, manufacture, distribution, etc. — begging the question of who is that someone?

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To determine that, we need to understand a few specifics the president failed to reveal in his explanation to the American people.

First of all, nearly all Catholic institutions — including archdioceses, schools and universities — are self-insured in one form or another. Without going into a technical dissertation about self-insurance and self-funded insurance plans, the simplest way to understand this concept is by imagining self-insurance as a really big deductible.

Self-insurance and self-funded insurance programs come in all shapes and sizes, each with its own degree of sophistication and nuances. While these plans don’t lend themselves to simple explanations in an 850-word commentary, the following should help clarify the issue.

Let’s assume for a moment the Catholic Archdiocese of New York’s insurance program uses a $5 million self-insured retention (retention is an industry term) and while there are legal distinctions between “retentions” and “deductibles,” as a practical matter their functions are almost identical. In its most basic terms, this means the archdiocese will pay all claims up to $5 million before the insurance company pays a dime.

Another fact not commonly known among those not in the insurance industry is that self-insurance programs seldom tap into the insurance company’s coffers.

With self-funded plans, insurance companies primarily provide claims management, loss control, actuarial, administrative and information services. So while these insurance companies do provide “excess insurance” (insurance above $5 million in this hypothetical case), the reality is that they operate more as administrators than as insurers.

When crafting the so-called compromise with the Catholic Church, the president’s advisers would have been derelict not to provide him with that information. Additionally, his advisers must also have told him it’s not unusual for insurance industry actuaries to base their premiums and fees on the assumption that the vast majority of all the archdiocese claims — perhaps 100 percent of them — will fall under their “deductible.”

Therefore, it appears His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan was correct when he said there really wasn’t a compromise at all, because it’s the Catholic Archdiocese of New York that will actually pay for the contraceptive products in question, while the “insurance company” the president referred to functions as its administrator.

In another if somewhat facetious example of how “who actually pays” can be deceiving, when a mother gives a teenage daughter her Visa card to go shopping for clothes, which of the two actually pays for the clothes — the teen who handed the store clerk her mother’s credit card, or the mother who writes the check to Visa every month?

I think you see my point.

So when the president asserted, “The church won’t be required to pay for contraceptive devises because the insurance company will provide them for free,” he cleverly created a distinction without a difference.

This issue isn’t about women’s health or even birth control, as 30-year-old law student and women’s rights activist Sandra Fluke (supported by the grandstanding of Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi) would have us to believe.

The real issue is the federal government using the mechanism of Obamacare to coerce the Catholic Church to pay for something that violates its religious dogma.

As most of us now know, the matter was subsequently inflamed when talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh injected his tasteless remarks about Ms. Fluke, giving the supporters of Obamacare the cover they needed to change the subject from the Catholic Church’s First Amendment Rights to that of woman’s health.

But educated women such as Fluke, Boxer and Pelosi know full well that this isn’t about women’s health, unless of course they’ve forgotten that contraceptive products have been provided free of charge by a variety governmental agencies, including county governments, Medicaid, Planned Parenthood, etc., since 1970, through Public Law 91-572, more commonly known as Title X of the Public Health Service Act.

Calling this matter an attack on women’s health is more than just nonsense. It’s an attempt to mislead. And Ms. Fluke, Mrs. Boxer and Mrs. Pelosi know it. This entire matter is about the First Amendment rights of the Catholic Church, pure and simple.

Quote of the day: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Abraham Lincoln

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at

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