White House Issues Conscience Rules for Health Care Personnel
On Thursday, the Bush administration issued a rule that expands protections for health care workers who elect not to offer or participate in certain procedures, such as abortion, because of moral objections, the AP/Denver Post reports (Freking, AP/Denver Post, 12/18).
Under the new "right of conscience" rule, any worker with a "reasonable" connection to the delivery of health care -- including employees who clean equipment -- can refuse to take part in services such as abortion, dispensing birth control drugs and other forms of contraception, or offering advice about such services.
Health care organizations that do not provide written confirmation of their compliance with the rule by Oct. 1, 2009, will be denied federal funding and could be asked to return funding they have received. It is expected to cost more than $44 million to implement the rule, which applies to more than 584,000 health care organizations across the U.S. (Stein, Washington Post, 12/19).
The rule will take effect on Jan. 18, 2009, two days before President-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated (Lengell, Washington Times, 12/19).
The regulation states that to "avoid potential conflicts from occurring, we strongly encourage early, open and respectful communications between providers and patients surrounding sensitive issues of health care, including issues of conscience" (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 12/18).
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said, "Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience" (Rosetta/May, Salt Lake Tribune, 12/18).
The incoming Obama administration could revise the rule, but such a process could take months to complete. The Los Angeles Times reports that a "speedier option" would be a congressional resolution rejecting the rule (Los Angeles Times, 12/18).
Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced a measure to repeal the rule last month.
A similar bill is pending in the House (Washington Post, 12/19).
An Obama spokesperson said the President-elect "will review all 11th-hour regulations and will address them once he is president" (Los Angeles Times, 12/18).
On Thursday, NPR's "All Things Considered" reported on the right of conscience rule (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 12/18).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.