- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Federal workers in 27 Illinois counties as of yesterday may enroll in a Catholic-run health insurance plan that does not cover abortions and contraceptives, and limits coverage of fertility treatments.

The program is the first such national plan offered to federal employees. Although it is anticipated that most of the subscribers will be Catholics, there is no religious requirement for participation.

“This insurance plan is moving in the right direction … because it gives individuals the opportunity to live out their moral judgments, their moral values,” said Philip Karst, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Health Association in Chicago.

The plan is offered by OSF HealthPlans in Peoria, a faith-based company owned and operated by the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.

“People ought to be able to decide if their health insurance plan is consistent with their religious convictions,” said Michael O’Dea, a Michigan Catholic, abortion opponent and advocate of faith-based health insurance.

Planned Parenthood criticized the use of the plan by federal employees.

“It’s inappropriate for federal dollars to subsidize a plan that is blatantly designed to foster one’s religion’s point of view. This is just another part of the Bush administration’s attacks on access to family planning and birth control,” Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the Chicago Tribune.

Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, condemned Ms. Feldt’s remarks as being “profoundly anti-Catholic.”

“They tell me how deep Planned Parenthood’s animosity toward Catholics really is,” he said.

Mr. Donohue said he likes the idea behind the new health plan for federal employees, “as long as it’s not coercive and is entirely voluntary.”

Mr. O’Dea said the plan is just one of many options offered to federal employees.

“Nationally, there are already 249 health care plans available for federal employees. This is one that provides an alternative to those who want to follow their moral conscience” in terms of how they want their health care dollars spent, said Mr. O’Dea, a consultant with a health care consulting firm that will run the health savings account segment of the OSF plan.

Mr. Koch said this health plan is not just for Catholics, but “for anybody who doesn’t think you’ll ever utilize those services” that have been cut, regardless of religion.

About 7,800 federal employees in the 27 counties in central and northern Illinois, excluding Chicago, are eligible for the plan, which provides low-cost, high-deductible coverage and a health savings account.

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