Steubenville drops student health plan: Conscience or controversy?

With much fanfare, including an appearance on Fox News' On the Record, the Franciscan University fo Steubenville has decided to discontinue its student health plan, which covered just under 200 of its 2,500 students. Headlines proclaimed it was because the HHS mandate that health plans cover contraception and so-called "abortion-inducing drugs," but a closer look tells a different story.

The university's VP for advancement, Michael Hernon, told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren that the big issue was the cost for students, which would double next year to $1,300 from $600, so the university decided to drop its requirement that students carry health insurance. Somehow I doubt that the premium increase was based on the cost of birth control pills.

What Steubenville has effectively done, however, is deprive students without coverage of a group alternative to the private market, which hardly seems very Catholic to me. If the university required its students to have coverage, it stands to reason that the more than 90 percent of students who were covered got their coverage through their parents; thanks to the "Obamacare" those students can stay on their parents' health plans until they turn 26.

So what's this really all about? Steubenville didn't dump its employee health plan because of the mandate–I think they were covered by the original exemption because of their sectarian nature anyway. And the student health plan didn't have to cover contraceptives this year anyway because of the extension the administration extended to religious institutions. Besides, the Supreme Court will likely strike the whole thing in a matter of weeks.

The only reason I can see for Steubenville to make such a big deal about eliminating student health coverage for less than 200 students is to keep the ludicrous story about "threats to religious liberty" in the news–especially now that the administration has stood on its head to give the church what it wants on this. It is a clever strategy, and I'd love to be in on that Monday morning conference call in which super PACS such as CatholicVote and other interest groups such as the Thomas More Society [correction: not a SuperPAC] and their allies talk about how to elect Mitt Romney and eliminate what's left of government aid to poor people. 

But posturing is posturing. Please spare me the alleged crisis of conscience.

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Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.