While I simply rolled my eyes when confronted with last month's story that Catholic Charities was ending its 80-year-old foster-care program in the District of Columbia rather than license same-sex couples and that it would be transfering its remaining clients to the National Center for Children and Families (hyperlink provided for those who would like to start contributing to an agency that cares more about helping children than continuing to discriminate against gay people), I am in shock at today's news that Catholic Charities has chosen to stop providing spousal health insurance coverage to its employees rather than be forced to provide it equitably. The agency says it will continue to cover those employees who are already enrolled in spousal coverage but no new employees will receive this coverage. In an even more stunning aside, the main article in the Washington Post reveals that the Archdiocese of Washington also no longer provides spousal health insurance to its employees.
Thus Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Washington have joined the ranks of some of the least family-friendly employers who refuse to provide coverage for their workers' dependents. And, thus, they are contributing to the health insurance crisis in America which the Catholic hierarchy has so deplored. From the FAQs on the USCCB's special Web site on health care reform:
Question: Why are the bishops so vocal about health care reform?"Unacceptable"? Our bishops are absolutely right that it is unacceptable for full-time workers and their families to be uninsured. So why are Catholic institutions contributing to the problem? Perhaps Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Catholic Charities President and CEO Edward J. Orzechowski didn't get the memo...
Answer: One out of three Americans under the age of 65 went without health insurance for some period of time during 2007 and 2008. Of these, four out of five were from working families. Sixty four percent of the uninsured are employed full time, year round. This state of affairs is unacceptable. In the Catholic tradition, health care is a basic human right not a privilege. It is a fundamental issue of human life and dignity.
In the comments attached to the article in the Post, many people said: "Let the workers buy their own spousal coverage, if they want it" but, speaking as someone who has tried buying individual health insurance, I can tell you that it isn't cheap (and pretty much unaffordable on the salaries the Catholic Church pays most of its lay workers) and not always available, especially for older spouses or those with pre-existing health problems. It is safe to assume that those spouses the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities are no longer insuring and who do not have coverage through an employer of their own, will join the growing ranks of the uninsured.
Charity begins at home, and if the Catholic Church is going to have a credible voice in the health care reform debate, it needs to stop contributing to the problem.
On the other hand, maybe Catholic Charities should consider also terminating spousal health insurance for its highly compensated executives who are much better positioned than any new hire to buy insurance for their spouses on the open market. According to the latest Guidestar report on the charity (for FY 2008), their highest paid officers and employees are making:
Edward J Orzechowski, President: $275,000
Timothy Sawina, COO: $158,500
Camille R Bash, CFO/Treasurer: $157,500
Wayne Swann, VP HR: $140,500
Richard Kalb, VP Admin/Facilities: $122,500
Joan Fowler Brown, Secretary: $74,000
Five Highest Paid Employees:
Denise Capaci, Director: $111,228
J Chapman Todd, Director: $102,989
Jarlath Finn, Director: $100,819
Meha Desai, Director: $99,768
Abby Crowley, Director: $88,716