WASHINGTON, June 15, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In a reversal that deals a significant blow to the HHS contraception mandate, the major Catholic hospital association that once provided crucial political steam for President Obama’s health care legislation has now backed off supporting the mandate, saying that the president’s “accommodation” of religious groups is inadequate.

The Catholic Health Association (CHA) on Friday issued a letter to an official with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department, stating that the government’s proposed rule forcing religious employers to provide birth control insurance to employees left them “deeply concerned.”

CHA noted that it was changing its initial position welcoming the White House’s “accommodation” to religious groups in February, whereby President Obama claimed insurance companies would offer the birth control for free, rather than having religious institutions directly pay for it.

“While this new development seemed at the time to be a good first step, our examination and study of the proposal as outlined then and in the ANPRM has not relieved our initial concerns,” wrote CHA president Sr. Carol Keehan and two members of the board.

“Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, we continue to believe that it is imperative for the Administration to abandon the narrow definition of ‘religious employer’ and instead use an expanded definition to exempt from the contraceptive mandate not only churches, but also Catholic hospitals, health care organizations and other ministries of the Church.”

If the exemption is not expanded, they said, then the administration must pay directly for such coverage.

CHA was an early supporter of the federal health care legislation, pledging to support the administration’s proposal as early as July 2009. The group continued to support the measure even as Catholic bishops issued strong warnings over the bill’s potential to expand abortion, leading then-USCCB president Cardinal Francis George to chastise CHA as causing “confusion and a wound to Catholic unity” on the issue.

After the insurance mandate was announced last August, CHA pushed unsuccessfully for a compromise before stating opposition to the rule. However, the group’s position quickly reversed after the February “accommodation”: CHA almost immediately stated its renewed support even as U.S. bishops moved from caution to condemnation.

According to one calculation, if the mandate is not reversed or modified, it has the potential to shutter the 12.6 percent of American hospitals that are Catholic - an option Cardinal George in February emphasized as not far-fetched.

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George had urged people to buy a copy of the Archdiocesan directory “as a souvenir” and to look at a page containing a list of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions. “Two Lents from now, unless something changes, that page will be blank,” he said.