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Catholic Health Care Industry Betrays Women, Latinos and Public Trust: National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Catholics for a Free Choice Call for Immediate Reforms

November 18, 2005

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Catholics for a Free Choice
Call for Immediate Reforms

WASHINGTON, DC—Leaders working for the reproductive health and rights of Latinas throughout the United States expressed outrage after reading a new report released yesterday by Consejo de Latinos Unidos and called on the Catholic healthcare industry to immediately change its policies on excessively billing the poor.

Unholy Alliance: An Investigative Report on the US Catholic Church and Nonprofit Catholic Hospitals reveals that “the top 7 Catholic non-profit hospital systems had garnered over $2 billion in profits in 2004, are sitting on over $20 billion in cash and investments, and continue to price gouge uninsured Latinos, 9 of 10 of whom are Catholic.”

“This is beyond outrageous,” said Silvia Henriquez, Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “It is unjust. Thirty-seven percent of Latinas are uninsured, relying on their community hospitals for essential healthcare services. And we know that for many Latinos, a Catholic hospital is not only the nearest hospital—it’s the only one. Latinos, whether we are citizens of the US or not and whether we have insurance or not, deserve to be treated with dignity. It is appalling that a Catholic hospital would exploit our status to boost its tax-free profit margin.”

The report includes typical examples where the uninsured were routinely charged four to five times more than normal reimbursement. In one cited case, Catholic Healthcare West charged Myrna E., an uninsured Latina, $20,296 for services that it would have only charged Medicare $3,994.

“I’d like to tell you this is a new phenomenon, but it’s not,” said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice. “The Catholic health industry is big business. One in six Americans is treated in a Catholic healthcare institution each year. In 2002, Catholic hospitals received more than $45 billion in public funding, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Their top executives routinely make more than $1 million per year. Their facilities charge market rates for healthcare services and they do not provide any more charity care than other healthcare systems. It’s time we stop romanticizing Catholic healthcare institutions and start holding them accountable to the communities they serve.”

“The Catholic healthcare industry must issue an urgent and immediate clarification of its policy to ensure that this exploitation of the poor stops immediately,” added Kissling. “Should such change not happen by the end of the year, we will urge the appropriate state and federal regulatory and tax-exemption-granting bodies to review the status of any hospital or entity that continues these practices. Perhaps it is time for the Congress to enact legislation that controls the rampant price gouging by all tax exempt hospitals. Should a hospital really be able to avoid taxes while charging its patients four and five times its normal reimbursement rate?”

Catholics for a Free Choice has released several reports on the impact of the Catholic healthcare industry on women’s reproductive health and rights. Among some its findings:

  • More than a quarter of Catholic hospitals are located in rural areas with no other viable healthcare options for people living in those areas. This especially affects the poor, who may not be able to afford to travel to another institution.
  • The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services explicitly forbids Catholic institutions from providing some basic and essential medical procedures deemed to contradict church teachings, regardless of the religious beliefs or religious denomination of the patient seeking services or the medical professional providing them.
  • Catholic hospitals often deny patients essential healthcare services, including voluntary sterilization, in vitro fertilization and contraceptive devices.
  • In a survey of 98% of the Catholic hospitals in the United States, 55% of the hospitals stated they would never, under any circumstances, be willing to provide emergency contraception to a patient. Only 28% of would provide emergency contraception to a patient that had been raped.

“How could anyone do this to women and families and call themselves Catholic with a straight face?” asked Henriquez. “These hospitals may serve our community, but what kind of service are they providing? There are both naturalized and undocumented men and women with little or no family support seeking their help. There are women in crisis situations who are trying to make the right decisions. There are an increasing number of people in transition—the homeless, the recently unemployed—who rely on their services. These people are among the most deserving of our compassion and care. They are not ‘easy targets’ for predatory collection agents. The hospitals identified in the study should be ashamed of themselves.”