California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office is investigating allegations that the Catholic health care chain Providence Health violated its legal commitments when it applied religious exemption restrictions on its partner Hoag Memorial Hospital. Becerra is President Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of Health and Human Services, though he has no experience or background in health care.
In a four-page letter to the hospitals, Becerra requested relating paperwork with a deadline of March 23, 2021. Providence Health told the Los Angeles Times that it “welcomes the Attorney General’s request for further information, and is confident that the review will demonstrate that Providence has always complied with all the requirements under the merger conditions.”
Hoag Memorial and Providence Health began their partnership in 2016, but in May 2020, Hoag Memorial’s management sued Providence Health to dissolve the relationship. Then in October, several doctors at Hoag Memorial filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office. Those doctors claimed that Providence applied the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care to Hoag, which was founded as a Presbyterian hospital.
“Providence has increasingly disallowed women’s health services when they involve any form of contraceptive care,” read the doctors’ complaint.
According to the Los Angeles Times, applying those religious directives to treatments at Hoag, other than direct abortions, would be a breach of the conditions of their partnership which Becerra’s predecessor as attorney general, now-Vice President Kamala Harris, imposed on a partnership between Hoag and St. Joseph Health in 2014. She then extended those conditions onto the agreement that merged St. Joseph with Providence Health in 2016 — which ultimately merged Hoag and Providence.
Harris said that St. Joseph and Providence would allow Hoag to continue its women’s services as is until 2033, if not longer. She also stated that Hoag would not be subject to the Ethical and Religious Directives at any point.
The Hoag doctors claim that Providence’s physician management arm, Heritage Healthcare, has not been paying for contraceptive services for HMO patients at Hoag and that Providence has also delayed authorizations for treatment for miscarriages and other women’s health concerns. They claim that in at least one case, Heritage specifically cited the Ethical and Religious Directives in its denial of payment for a patient’s intrauterine birth control device (IUD) insertion. IUDs have the potential to function as abortifacients.
Becerra stated in his letter that he is “monitoring whether administrative hurdles are or have been placed on Hoag OB/GYNs’ efforts to obtain reimbursement for ERD-restricted women’s reproductive services, procedures or other activities.”
Catholic groups and health care organizations are understandably concerned about Becerra as the potential leader of HHS. “An administration which is willing to aggressively back abortion, marriage redefinition, and gender ideology could pick a lot of fights with Catholic organizations — and that is exactly what happened under the Obama administration,” wrote Matt Hadro for the Catholic News Agency in December 2020. “The HHS crafted the contraceptive mandate, which forced many Catholic employers — including the Little Sisters of the Poor — into court. Even after the sisters were granted a broader conscience and religious freedom exemption, it was challenged by several state attorneys general, including Becerra.”
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