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Independent lens?

What's happening at Catholic News Service? A few weeks ago, I took note of a CNSarticle that looked like a news story but smelled like an opinion piece. On Wednesday CNS published a piece that purports to bust myths about the contraception-coverage mandate but reads more like a USCCB press release.Look at the lead:

Exaggerations and outright misrepresentations about the Department of Health and Human Services' contraceptive mandate have been appearing in White House "fact sheets" and mainstream media. Here are some of the more frequently cited claims and the facts to counter them.

The piece does not pin myth to mythmaker. Did the White House claim that self-funded health plans are "seldom used"? Or was that someone in the big bad MSM? Hard to say.Who floated the theory that because twenty-eight states already have contraception mandates the situation in those states won't change after the mandate takes effect? The article doesn't say.To be sure, the piece does correct a couple of common confusions: The claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use or have used contraception is inaccurate; astudy [.pdf]showed that 98 percent of self-identified Catholic women had used contraception (edit: other than natural family planning) at some point during childbearing years. And it's important to keep in mind that even though twenty-eight states require insurance companies to include contraception in their prescription-drug coverage, organizations that self-fund their health plans could avoid providing contraception coverage because such plans are federally regulated. That won't be an option under the HHS ruling.But some of the article's "facts" dodge important questions. Take, for example, its facts about self-funded employee health plans.

A majority of Americans who have private health insurance are in self-insured plans, according to separate reports by the Congressional Research Service and the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Educational Trust. The percentage was 44 percent in 1999, 55 percent in 2008 and had increased to 60 percent by 2011.Employees in large companies (those with 200 or more employees) were even more likely to be covered by a self-insured plan. Eighty-two percent of workers at large firms -- and 96 percent of those who work for a company with 5,000 or more workers -- were in a self-insured health plan.There is no precise count of how many of the employees working for Catholic organizations or institutions are in self-insured plans, but the number is believed to mirror that of the general population.

Hang on. The relevant question is: how will the HHS ruling affect religious employers' self-funded health plans? It's good to know how common such plans are across the full range of employers. But this is a Catholic News Service report. If it's true that no one knows how many employees of Catholic organizations are in self-funded plans, then find out. Work your beat: What does it take to self-fund an employee health plan? (A lot of cash.) How have affected Catholic institutions dealt with the question? (At least one bishop found self-insurance too expensive, so he provides contraception coverage to diocesan employees.) "Is believed" is not good enough, not if what's really at stake is the freedom of Catholic institutions to practice their religion.The CNS article presents other "facts" in a misleading way. For example:

Myth: Adding contraceptive coverage to health plans will be net cost-neutral, because those covered by the mandate will have fewer unintended pregnancies.Fact: Pharmacy directors disagree. An online survey by New Jersey-based Reimbursement Intelligence of 15 pharmacy directors representing more than 100 million employees or their dependents found that nearly 50 percent thought the mandate would increase costs, 20 percent thought it would be cost-neutral and none predicted that it would save money. More than 30 percent said they didn't know what the effect would be.Several respondents also raised the question of whether the mandate to provide contraceptives free of charge would require them to give away brand-name medications, even when generics are available.

It certainly is not a myth that adding contraception coverage to health plans will be net cost-neutral. [Here I'm cribbing from a comment I left on another post.] HHS studied the question, and found no evidence that contraception coverage increases insurers' costs. In 1999, for example, Congress required Federal Employees Health Benefits plans to cover FDA-approved contraception. At the time, the premium pricing had already been determined. So the office that administers the federal health benefits program created a reconciliation process for insurers who found the contraception mandate financially problematic. Yet, as the HHS study points out: There was no need to adjust premium levels because there was no cost increase as a result of providing coverage of contraceptive services. That program is the largest employee health plan in the United States.Actuarial studies also support that finding. From the HHS report: "When medical costs associated with unintended pregnancies are taken into account, including costs of prenatal care, pregnancy complications, and deliveries, the net effect on premiums is close to zero. One study author concluded, The message is simple: regardless of payment mechanism or contraceptive method, contraception saves money.There are also indirect costs to consider, such as time away from work. Global Health Outcomes developed a model that incorporates costs of contraception, costs of unintended pregnancy, and indirect costs. They find that it saves employers $97 per year per employee to offer a comprehensive contraceptive benefit.Finally, PriceWaterhouseCoopers actuaries concluded that contraceptive coverage is ultimately cost-saving.Does Catholic News Service expect readers to believe that an online survey [.pdf] of fifteen pharmacy directors undermines the conclusions of those studies, or conclusions drawn from the experience of the nation's largest employee health plan? Especially when 20 percent of them (in layman's terms, three people) say contraception coverage adds no cost to insurers, and 30 percent (four or five people) don't know? That means about half the surveyed pharmacy directors are not convinced that adding contraception coverage will increase costs to insurance companies. How does that comport with the first sentence of this "fact"?Mythbusting is a popular online sport. In theory, there's nothing wrong with CNS reporting stories that correct common misconceptions. But how it goes about doing so says something about its integrity as a news organization. This attempt is journalistically strange. It contains no quotes. It has one point of view. It conveniently ignores important aspects of the record it supposedly wants to correct.So I return to the question I led with: What is happening at CNS? For decades, Catholic News Service has served the church and the wider culture by providing reliable, professional reporting on Catholic news. Its excellent reputation derives not only from its admirable work, but also from its independence. The CNSmission statement is clear: "While created in 1920 by the bishops of the United States, CNS is editorially independent and a financially self-sustaining division of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops."Has that changed? Are bishops putting pressure on the organization to report stories that serve USCCB policy priorities? If it is the case that CNS is no longer editorially independent of the USCCB, then the organization must disclose that to its readers. Failure to share that information, if true, would constitute a serious violation of journalistic ethics.


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What I am more concerned about is what is going on at the USCCB. It really seems it is becoming single-issue, looking at everything through that single issue. Interest in religious liberty is good. However, why do the bishops ignore experts in the field of inter-religious dialogue and instead bring in GOP-strategists for their committee? They are free to do so, of course; however, it will also give people ample room to question the declarations coming out of the committee, especially if they work in the field of inter-religious issues.

And before people start to attack me, I am pro-life, but we must understand that the professional pro-life lobby often contradicts the pro-life principle for Republican political gain (Scott Brown ring a bell?) and the methodology of this lobby is apparent in the current direction of the pro-life wing of the USCCB. It's good to promote the pro-life teachings of the Church, but it is bad when it is used as a tool for politicians who cares nothing for the tool they use.

One last thing -- what do my comments have to do with the original article? I think that the USCCB has had, and continues to have, considerable influence over what is put out through CNS. It's always been that way. However, the USCCB itself is becoming so single-minded and undermined by that small lens that its affects are seen in and through the CNS.

The "end" (e.g. pro-life) never justifies the "means" (e.g. confusing, misleading, or inaccurate statements purporting to be "facts).IMO, the tail is wagging the dog.

The suggestion that CNS isn't reporting or is parroting the USCCB is unfair. It is easy to see that the CNS piece does contain reporting and argument that goes beyond the USCCB press release, for instance on the Guttmacher study and about the reasons to doubt that contraception is cost neutral -- two points on which this post is quite misleading.

Here's one review of the murky evidence: "Does insurance coverage for contraception save money? We find lots of evidence. But it's conflicting, and inconclusive." leads ineluctably to the default conclusion of researchers - - More research is needed. But who will fund it?"I suppose we should be glad that liberals no longer find large pharmaceutical companies to be the root of all evil. Still, it is rather fascinating that our friends on the left are gladly citing a study, funded in part by those oft-demonized pharmaceutical companies, as an objective assessment of the value of buying those pharmaceutical products for every woman of childbearing age in America."

To avoid the skepticism of Guttmacher, here is a Centers for Disease Control report showing that in 2006-2008, 99.1% of women aged 15 to 44 who had ever had intercourse had used some form of contraception at least once. (see Table 1)Catholics comprise about 25% of the U.S. population. Even if you assume that all of the 0.9% of the total who didn't use contraception were Catholics, the percentage of Catholics would be 24.1/25 = 96%

And as no one can answer, why bother to mandate that employers take advantage of something that "saves [them] $97 per year per employee"? Every employer I've ever worked at changed insurance plans at some point to save a bit of money here and there. If employers can save even $97 per year per employee, they will all leap to do so -- except for the religious objectors.So if the cost analyses that Grant cites are true, then there is no conceivable purpose for the mandate except to run roughshod over religious objectors.

My expectation is that the final rules will make certain that any loss by the insurance company on providing contraception for a company's employees cannot be recovered from that employer.The administration had to deal with that problem in the ACA where individual purchasers who want abortion coverage on government subsidized policies sold through an insurance exchange must pay a eparate premium for the abortion coverage. The regulations go into quite a lot of detail on how the insurance company has to do its accounting to avoid any loss on the abortion coverage becoming part of the premium the government subsidizes.

Grant, I think your concern about Catholic media is justified. I know that many dedicated people working in Catholic media would agree that they have much less independence, journalistically, than they did even five or 10 years ago. As the official Catholic media becomes more and more an extension of the diocesan public-relations offices, its credibility diminishes.The better editors realize that and struggle with it. CNS has been a bright spot, but it's no doubt under pressure. It would be a real loss to the church if it drifted away from the editorial independence it claims.

Grant, is Nancy O'Brien still at CNS? Her coverge of the ACA battle between the USCCB, CHA and Tim Jost In 2010 was pretty balanced. Fr. Z worked up: some other people at USCCB thought it should have been a press release.

OK, I see that she wrote the piece you posted. It has a different feeling.

What I can't understand is how anybody can have any confidence at all in the official media of the American Church. Just look at the non-coverage in the diocesan "newspapers" of the sex scandals in their respective dioceses. Pitiful.

Ann, I agreed that the diocesan newspapers I have seen are company newsletters.The articles present one point of view and don't acknowledge than any others exist. Every year or two our local diocesan newspaper sends me free copies for a few months and then tries to get me to sign up to a paying subscription. I don't read it when it's free, so I surely won't pay for it.

Mr. Hayes - what Fr. Z knows about the specifics of this debate would barely fill a thimble. He quites repeatedly from George's statement that was put out and read at the Chicago Archdiocesan parishes at Sunday worship after Obama's Friday compromise. His comments are about the original HHS decision; he did not revise those statements after Obama's compromise statement. Thus, much of what George states is incorrect, not accurate, and cites data or statements that are inaccurate (but he declares are facts).Taking this complex issue apart to analyze and arrive at a balanced approach that respects B16's statement last year that religious freedom or catholic morality does not seek to impose itself on prudent public, governmental, or society laws. Both George and Fr. Z appear to not understand that more nuanced approach. George has little objectivity around this complex issue.

John Hayes, did you read the CDC study? They count "withdrawal" and "periodic abstinence" as methods of contraception. That 99% number is meaningless.

What's meaningless is the attempt to pretend that Catholics have not, in huge majorities, rejected the teaching that every act of contraception is evil. Incidentally, withdrawal is not an approved method of contraception according to Catholic teaching. You can look at a summary of the '02 data set here:

Grant, nobody is disputing that. What is disputed is the 98% or 99% statistic, which is indeed a myth.

The attempt to discredit the study by claiming these contracepting women aren't really all that Catholic is an attempt to downplay the statistic. As I wrote above, the CNS story correctly points out that the CDC statistic has been repeatedly misstated.

" Every year or two our local diocesan newspaper sends me free copies for a few months and then tries to get me to sign up to a paying subscription. I dont read it when its free, so I surely wont pay for it. "I have been getting the paper from the Oakland diocese for years - I haven't been a member of a parish there for at least 30 years. Subscription data inflation, anyone?But they DO print dissenting letters (I get published quite often), apparently as a counterpoint to the nonsense and drivel that usually gets printed. The readership of said paper seems to have not progressed since the days they read (not understood) the old Baltimore catechism.

Josh,The 99.1% figure is correct as the number of people who had everused some method of contraception. It is not the sum of the lines below. If you add those up, you will see that they total several hundred percent. That is because people used different methods of contraception at different times and reported all the different ones that they were asked about. For instance, 82.3% reported that they had used the contraceptive pill. If you look forward to Table 3, you will see that, when asked what current method of birth control they were using, 61.8% said they were using contraception then and only 1% of them were using periodic abstinence.

Sorry, Table 4

One Million youngsters to age 26 were added to parents insurance coverage in the last year by the 'evil' Obamacare. and of course the #s are growing. Half are women. so can we say they are of child bearing age? Will there be less out of wedlock babies, less abortions, less shot-gun weddings [as we 80 year olds call it] because they will have BC access? I say yes and maybe someone can data find the facts. My cable TV program experience tells me the numbers will be substantial.

Bill deHaas,Fr. Z. Is on a political campaign. He posted an article by Sr. Keehan which was published in the February 15 print issue of Catholic Health News and claimed she had reversed her favorable opinion of the "accomodation" on the orders of her board and the bishops. posted on his blog to point out that Sr. Keehan's article had been available online on February 2 and had been written before the February 10 accomodation (it didn't it get pulled from the printed mag after February 10).Fr. Z. Didn't acknowledge that information and his article is still online.

Time to switch to to stay informed of what is happening to the Catholic church.

Grant, regarding self-insured plans. Plans that existed on March 23, 2010 are grandfathered and do not to hav to provide contraception or other preventative services as long as they meet the other requirements.To take care of self-insured plans* that have been created since then, it might be reasonable to move that date to some date in 2012 so they wouldn't have to provide contraception either.The remaining question would be whether to do anything for new self-insured plans that may be created in the future. That will be a political issue on which people will argue both sides *of non-profit organizations with religious objections to covering contraception.

Actuarial studies also support that finding. From the HHS report: When medical costs associated with unintended pregnancies are taken into account, including costs of prenatal care, pregnancy complications, and deliveries, the net effect on premiums is close to zero. One study author concluded, The message is simple: regardless of payment mechanism or contraceptive method, contraception saves money.

No doubt a baby aspirin every day or two and BandAids and Bacitracin also save money, for similar reasons. Can we expect to start receiving free aspirin, BandAids, and Bacitracin from the government? That would be nice!

John Hayes wrote:My expectation is that the final rules will make certain that any loss by the insurance company on providing contraception for a companys employees cannot be recovered from that employer.And then he provided the abortion provisions of the law as an example of how the accounting would be made to work. However there is one important difference between the abortion provisions and the proposed accommodation. In the abortion provision, the purchaser can be charged more when the actual costs change. In the proposed accommodation, there is no one to compensate the insurance company. As an intermediary, they need to get the money from someone else.Btw, it seems to me that if we follow the birth control cost saving thought to its logical conclusion, then our population will dwindle to zero because one pill will always be less costly in the short term than one baby.

Bruce, if I were writing the regulations I could solve that problem .But no point to speculating on those details until we see draft regulations released for public comment.

Grant, I didn't attempt to discredit the study that way, although since you mention it the study does contain interesting data indicating a correlation between frequency of Mass attendance and conformity to Catholic teaching on sexual behavior.My point is that even in sort-of conceding that it is a myth that 98% of Catholic women use contraception, you seem to perpetuate it. That statistic concerrns "sexually experienced" women. The study gives some indication of what percent of Catholics are left out of that number. But I guess it just isn't as headline-worthy to say, "31% of sexually experienced women who identify as Catholic use or have used the pill." (Presumably it is an even lower percentage of regularly-attending-Mass sexually experienced women, and of all Catholic women.)

Perhaps this is also meaningless:Whats meaningless is the attempt to pretend that Catholics have not, in huge majorities, rejected the teaching that every act of contraception is evil.Catholics also cohabitate and avail themselves of abortion. Does that devalue those teachings as well?

P.S. If the CNS report had been agressively attempting to exclude some as not "real" Catholics, it might not have said, "Twenty-five percent of the respondents to the survey self-identified as Catholics, but 40 percent of those said they never attended Mass or attended less frequently than once a month." Instead, it might have said (equally truthfully), "Twenty-five percent of the respondents to the survey self-identified as Catholics, but only 30 percent of those attend Mass at least once a week."

John Hayes, you are still leaving out "sexually experienced", a non-negligible qualifier.

Josh, sounds like the "No True Scotsman" fallacy to me. But apart from hat, I haven't heard anyone say that 98% of Catholic women use contraception (meaning regularly)The statement is that 98% of Catholic women of childbearing age have used contraception at some time (meaning perhaps only once)In newspaper articles "of childbearing age" sometimes gets of out but, otherwise, I don't see real confusion about this.

I hope the isue here is not about 'real"Catholics.That's probably part of the sorry srory that I found quite important here in this thread -viz. catholic journalist and journalism are under more pressure to folow a party line rather than repoty objectively.Given all the spin we are surrounded with politically and religionwise, I think we are at the beginnin gof a amjor junction on this.

Josh: I didn't say you had attempted to discredit the study in that way, although you did call it meaningless. Given your subsequent comments, I presume you were exaggerating. Not sure why you think I'm perpetuating the myth that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception (and people and news outlets have claimed that, John), when I wrote that the CNS story was correct to point out that the data do not support such a claim. What the data show is that of sexually experienced women of childbearing age who self-identify as Catholic (would attending Mass three times a month count?), 98 percent say they have used contraceptive methods other than naturally family planning. The study explains what "sexually experienced" and "childbearing age" mean.

More on the crazy economics of the birth control mandate:"If this had truly been about ensuring 'access' to effective birth control for the poor, expanding free-condom programs would have done the trick. But the policys supporters know that the politics of federally funding condom distribution are much worse than just declaring pills free. This is about implementing social policy stimulating wider use of birth control pills through health insurance regulation...."This brings me to the wider point, which is about using government mandates to create individual rights to free goods and services that no one has the duty to provide...The problem with such mandates is that they do not create rights for some so much as levy burdens on others, many of whom would be considered more deserving under more compelling criteria, in a manner hidden behind the veil of higher prices and fewer choices."

Josh, Grant, to get it exactly right, I quote the Guttmacher statement below. The survey data they are using is for women age 15 to 45 who have ever had sex (even once).In their April 2011 study linked in the article quoted below, they report that 89% of Catholic women aged 20 to 24 who have never married are sexually experienced and 70% for the Catholic 15 - 45 group overall. In April 2011, the Guttmacher Institute published the results of an analysis finding that 99% of all women of reproductive age who have ever had sexincluding 98% of such Catholic womenhave used a method of contraception other than natural family planning. These data have been ubiquitous in the recent debate over the requirement that private insurance plans cover contraceptive services and supplies without cost-sharing. However, there has been some confusion about various aspects of the research that produced this statistic.

Should be "70% for the Catholic 15-45 never married group overall"

OK, I get it: 2 attempts to be snarky about "Fr." Z were deleted - I get the point.Can I at least sneak this in (it IS from a pope, you know)?"When Pius X died, the conclave of 1914 elected Benedict XV, who immediately issued an encyclical (Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum - calling on Catholics to appease dissension and strife" so that "no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith. There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism, he concluded. It is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname David Gibson, Who Is a Real Catholic? The Washington Post, Sunday, May 17, 2009

Do you get it? It's Sunday. Every time you leave a comment like that, you force me to remove it. You know better. Please cut it out.

Point made, although what it being Sunday has to do with it is beyond me.

It means you are making work for me on the weekend.

A few months ago, I happened to be perusing our archdiocesan newspaper archives that had been microfiched. I was looking at issues from the mid-60s to the early '70s. Looking at the headlines back then (Vatican II and later) and the headlines today, I could simply see no comparison. Back in the day, they reflected excitement, innovation. Today, the headlines seem to reflect regulation, uniformity --- and (too much of the time) mush.In the Louisville archdiocese, every registered household (if policy hasn't changed) gets an automatic subscription to the local Catholic newspaper, which is now also online. When I left the Church of Rome five years ago, I lost my subscription. Given the lack of genuine leadership in the Vatican and elsewhere, I don't think I've lost much at all.Thank God for independent Catholic news and commentary outlets such as COMMONWEAL and NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER. They at least respect their readers as adults --- which is far more than I could ever say for the hierarchs. When an archbishop shuts down publication of informed but dissenting feedback on contemporary issues (e.g., women's ordination, optional celibacy, artificial birth control), he is diminishing his credibility as an official teacher of the local church. He is shooting himself in the foot. Given the fact that "Letters to the Editor" have been a very popular feature in newspapers in past years, a hierarch is, in effect, undercutting his attempt to evangelize. Adults are not going to allow their bishops to shut down discussion and debate. Louisville's archbishop rigidly applies canon 212.3. I can only guess if you're not asking people to pray to St. Jude or whatever, you need a doctorate in theology, etc. to qualify having your letter published in Louisville's Catholic newspaper. "Father knows best."Like hell he does!

But Grant, you offered as clarification in your post:"astudy [.pdf]showed that 98 percent of self-identified Catholic women had used contraception at some point during childbearing years."Even with the subsequent parenthetical edit, you are leaving out "sexually experienced".

That's right, Josh. You figured me out. I was trying to fool our readers while providing a link to the study.

Josh, I posted the text from Guttmacher in my 4:24 comment. They do not use the vague term "sexually experienced." instead, they say "who have ever had sex." One occasion is all that's required to be in the group.Neither Guttmacher nor CDC have extracted the figures on how many total Catholic women aged 15 to 45 have never had sex. The only figures I have found are the percentages of unmarried Catholic women I gave in my 4:24 comment. Adding in Catholic women aged 15 to 45 who have never had sex would reduce the percentages reported by Guttmacher but it doesn't look as if it would make an overwhelming difference.

Grant, I have no idea what you were *trying* to do by publishing that factually incorrect claim. What you *did* was misrepresent the data and then, when that was pointed out, defend yourself as if you hadn't.I assume that in general you are *trying* to get to the truth of things and make credible commentary, and my comments have been made in the same spirit. If you made a mistake and I helped you see that, we should both be glad.

Guttmacher says 53% of Catholics ages 15-44 have never been married, and 30% of them have never had sex, so 15.9% of Catholic women ages 15-44 have never had sex.

Josh, what is the link to the 53% figure?