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Fiscal Times columnist Edward Morrisey wonders if the president has thought through what the loss of religious healthcare providers would mean. In a FT column and a blog post, Morrisey warns that the Catholic bishops may not be bluffing when they say they would shut down their charitable operations if forced to provide insurance with “free” abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives.

Morrisey’s essays sketch the high stakes involved:

--the loss of $100 billion in health care costs now covered by Church hospitals

--about one-seventh of all U.S. hospital beds; i.e., more than 120,000 existing beds

--the loss of another 400+ health centers and 1,500 specialized homes


In an earlier post, I quoted Megan McArdle of the Atlantic, who is baffled at people who seem to

assume that we’re doing the Catholic Church a big old favor by allowing them to provide health care and other social services to a needy public…. These people seem to be living in an alternate universe that I don’t have access to, where there’s a positive glut of secular organizations who are just dying to provide top-notch care for the sick, the poor, and the dispossessed.

As Morrisey makes clear, nobody lives in that alternate universe. Here’s how our universe does operate:

Catholic hospitals handle more than their share of Medicare (16.6 percent) and Medicaid (13.65) discharges, meaning that more than one in six seniors and disabled patients get attention from these hospitals, and more than one in every eight low-income patients as well. Almost a third (32 percent) of these hospitals are located in rural areas, where patients usually have few other options for care. Compared to their competition, Catholic hospitals take a leading role in providing less-profitable services to patients. They lead the sector in breast cancer screenings, nutrition programs, trauma, geriatric services, and social work. In most of these areas, other non-profits come close, but hospitals run by state and local governments fall significantly off the pace. Where patients have trouble paying for care, Catholic hospitals cover more of the costs.

So, if the administration succeeds in suppressing the Catholic Church’s good works, poor and working-class families “would end up having to pay more for their care”; “rural patients would have to travel farther”; “services like social work and breast-cancer screenings would fall to the less-efficient government-run institutions,” which would mean “much longer wait time for everyone else.” And “finally, over a half-million people employed by Catholic hospitals would lose their jobs.”

And it’s not just hospitals. Morrisey adds that over 7,500 primary and secondary schools (over a third of whose students are not Catholic) would be shuttered, leaving more than 2.5 million students bereft. Assuming an average public school student cost of $8,000, Morrisey notes that Catholic schools save taxpayers about $20 billion a year.

Then there’s Catholic Charities. The latest data Morrisey finds is from 2003, when these nonprofits

--provided emergency food services to 6,500,000 people

--temporary shelter to over 200,000 people

--assisted another 1,500,000 people with such things as clothing, finances, utilities, and medication

No wonder James Q. Wilson declared religious charities “may be the last best hope of the utterly disadvantaged” -- the federal government certainly isn’t.

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