Financially and morally, HHS mandate will be devastating, say local Catholic professionals

4-WatzaMetro Detroit — The Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate is challenging business owners across the nation who are struggling to choose between health care for their employees and the violation of their own consciences.

Don Watza, a longtime Catholic businessman and president of BenStaff, Inc., a health care and employee benefits consulting firm in Bloomfield Hills, says he is troubled by the impending effects of the mandate.

“If I respect life, I respect employee lives too,” said Watza of the mandate set forth by the Obama administration.

The HHS mandate requires employers to include coverage for abortions and abortion-inducing drugs as part of employer-sponsored health care plans, regardless of employers’ moral objections, along with mandates for contraceptive and sterilization coverage.

As a small business owner, Watza said the mandate’s effect is not limited to contraception and abortion: “Forcing Catholics and people of faith to give up firmly held beliefs is only one concern. There is an avalanche of regulations affecting other areas of life.”

These other affects include costly tax penalties for non-compliance with the HHS mandate.

“Tax penalties for non-compliance are severe, and will cost some businesses millions of dollars per year, driving many out of business,” said Erin Mersino, trial counsel at Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor. “People can choose between one, violating their faith, or two, paying crippling tax penalties.”

Mersino explained that the HHS mandate applies to the majority of businesses and even sole proprietors (self-employed individuals), as the mandate adheres to all group employer health care plans.

“There is no ability for a for-profit business to ‘opt out’ of the mandate if the business provides group health insurance,” she said. “However, a small business with fewer than 50 employees can drop insurance in its entirety without tax penalty.”

Mersino said the Obama administration has claimed that contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs are economically prudent in the context of the Affordable Care Act, “but fails to offer any concrete support for its claim.”

“This is not an area of moral relativism,” she said. “It presents a moral balance of pros and cons — the mandate is government tyranny with the cost being religious freedom.”

As a way for Catholics and like-minded individuals to increase awareness about the detrimental effects of the mandate, Watza suggested business owners influence regulators and insurance companies by “using their collective purchasing power.”

“One step I’d recommend for an owner is to start by talking to internal staff and telling them of their beliefs,” Watza said. “Owners set company policy and they should let their human resources and finance team, who make this decision, know their desires.”

Watza said he would also recommend forming a coalition with like-minded owners to pool resources and provide two solutions: “an avenue to provide regulatory influence, and perhaps a Catholic insurance policy.”