Caritas Christi withdraws from planned partnership

A statue of Mary is seen outside St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston, the flagship hospital of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Caritas Christi Health Care system. The archdiocese announced June 27 that Caritas was relinquishing its membership and equity interests in a joint partnership with Centene, a St. Louis-based insurance company. CNS photo/Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot

BRIGHTON -- Just days before a joint partnership between Caritas Christi Health Care and St. Louis-based insurance company Centene, Inc. was scheduled to begin, the Archdiocese of Boston announced June 27 that its Caritas Christi Health Care System was relinquishing its membership and equity interests in the venture.

The decision to withdraw from the partnership follows several months of controversy over the proposed joint venture with Centene to create CeltiCare Health Plan. CeltiCare will offer coverage through Commonwealth Care, a program of Massachusetts’ Health Insurance Connector Authority which matches low-income residents with a health care plan and helps them pay for it.

Plans offered through the program must cover certain state-mandated procedures including abortion and sterilization.

The planned deal had been contentious since February when pro-life activists questioned Caritas’ partnership in a health plan that would be obliged to cover morally objectionable procedures. Meanwhile, regulators sought assurances that CeltiCare would provide the full range of benefits required by the state.

In response, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley issued a statement on March 5 assuring the public that Caritas Christi, “will not be engaged in any procedures nor draw any benefits from any relationship which violate the Church’s moral teaching.”

The next day, in posting of his weekly blog, www.cardinalseansblog.org, the cardinal reiterated that commitment and also announced that he would ask the National Catholic Bioethics Center to advise him on the arrangement.

As the July 1 start date for CeltiCare plan approached, those opposed to the deal, including the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Citizens for Life and the American Life League, renewed their calls for Cardinal O’Malley to withdraw Caritas Christi from the partnership.

On June 27, following the review by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, Caritas Christi announced that it would withdraw from ownership in CeltiCare but would continue to be a provider for the plan and receive payment for its services, as it would from any other health insurer.

Cardinal O’Malley, expressed his support of this new arrangement.

“I am pleased that Caritas Christi was able to achieve this outcome,” the cardinal said in a statement. “Throughout this process, our singular goal has been to provide for the needs of the poor and underserved in a manner that is fully and completely in accord with Catholic moral teaching.”

Father J. Bryan Hehir, Secretary for Health and Social Services for the Archdiocese of Boston, echoed the cardinal’s sentiment, noting that there are two “major objectives” in Catholic healthcare -- “to provide health care for everyone -- that is, social justice -- and to respect life from the moment of conception to the point of natural death.”

“This deal now allows Caritas to fulfill both of these objectives,” Father Hehir added.

“The opportunity for Caritas Christi to participate in the Connector program will allow Caritas to serve the low income and underserved population’s desperate need for quality health care. We are committed to fulfilling our mission, as we always have, rooted in the principles established by Catholic teaching, of providing the highest quality healthcare to patients across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” stated Dr. Ralph de la Torre, president of the Caritas Christi Health Care system.

In an earlier statement, Dr. de la Torre explained that when a patient seeks a procedure contrary to Catholic teaching, Caritas will follow the same procedure with CeltiCare as it has with every other health plan.

“When a patient seeks such a procedure, Caritas health care professionals will be clear that (a) the hospital does not perform them and (b) the patient must turn to his or her insurer for further guidance,” he said.

Reaction by critics of the original deal has been mixed.

C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts called the decision by Caritas to withdraw from ownership in CeltiCare, “an 11th hour, but only partial victory, for the thousands of pro-life Catholics who have spent the last four months bombarding the Archdiocese of Boston with letters, petitions, phone calls and e-mails.”

“Instead of offering compassionate alternatives to abortion, Caritas Christi will still be engaged in a two-step abortion referral,” he said.

“Troubling questions also remain about whether Caritas has already benefited financially from this contract, and whether it continues to have an ongoing relationship with the Centene Corporation,” he added.

American Life League, however, praised the cardinal’s decision.

“We profoundly thank Cardinal O’Malley for his courage, leadership and pastoral concern for the health and well-being of those youngest members of his archdiocese. He has set a beautiful example of dedication and charity for those poorest of the poor -- the preborn,” the league said in a statement.

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