CATHOLIC HOSPITALS: Bill Would Guarantee Access to Reproductive Services
Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) Friday introduced a bill that would guarantee women access to the full range of reproductive health services in light of the recent spate of mergers between religiously affiliated and secular health care systems. At a press conference introducing the bill, Lourdes Rivera of the National Health Law Program noted that in 1998, eight of the 14 largest health systems in the country were Catholic, "with Catholic Healthcare West and its 46 hospitals now the largest hospital operator in California." Kuehl's bill, AB 525, is believed to be the first such measure in the country to address this aspect of Catholic mergers. The bill would:
- Require health plans to guarantee access to reproductive health services, either through a plan's own facilities or through another provider;
- Give the state attorney general new authority to scrutinize or disapprove of mergers which would deny consumers the full range of reproductive health services;
- Require all plans to inform consumers about how they may access the full scope of such services and about any limitations therein;
- Require health facilities that receive public funds to guarantee access to all reproductive health services.
Susan Berke Fogel, legal director of the California Women's Law Center, said the bill would not force religious hospitals to provide services that are inconsistent with their religious beliefs. Rather, she said it would "ensure that the church's ethical directives and growing presence in health care do not marginalize reproductive health services and relegate women's health care to isolated corners of the market." She added that mergers between religious and secular hospitals "are negotiated behind closed doors and with little public input, regulation, or information. AB 525 will shed light on these transactions and ensure that reproductive health services are preserved in California and that consumers have full information about how to access them. ... We expect it to be a model for legislation across the country" (CWLC release, 3/18).="http:> This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.