Commentary Health Systems

Dispelling Six Myths About Catholic Hospital Care in the United States

Lori Freedman

Over the past decade, Catholic hospitals have merged with and purchased nonsectarian hospitals around the United States, becoming leading players in the nation’s health-care industry. Here are six commonly held misconceptions about the breadth and depth of Catholic hospital care.

Cross-posted with permission from ANSIRH.

Over the past decade, Catholic hospitals have merged with and purchased nonsectarian hospitals around the United States, becoming leading players in the nation’s health-care industry. Catholic hospitals receive billions of taxpayer dollars each year and have a combined gross patient revenue of $213.7 billion. The standards of medical care put forth in the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” differ from those generally recognized in other medical settings, particularly regarding reproductive health care. These variances not only restrict choices about abortion and contraception, but reduce access to evidence-based reproductive health services as a whole. 

Here are six commonly held misconceptions about the breadth and depth of Catholic hospital care in the United States. Below we dispel these myths:

Myth #1: Catholic health care is provided by and for Catholic people.

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Fact: Catholic health-care employees are religiously diverse.

Fact: Catholic health-care patients are diverse.

Myth #2: Catholic health care doesn’t affect many people.

Fact: Catholic hospitals serve a large and increasing number of Americans.

  • One in six patients in the United States receive care in a Catholic institution.
  • Ten of the 25 largest hospital systems in the United States are Catholic.
  • From 2001 to 2011, Catholic hospitals increased in number by 16 percent, while other nonprofit and public hospitals declined in number.

Myth #3: Catholic patients want care that adheres to Catholic doctrine.

Fact: Catholic patients utilize contraception and abortion at equal and higher rates than the general population.

Myth #4: The charity care provided by Catholic hospitals justifies a few omissions. 

Fact: Catholic hospitals provide charity care at a rate below the average for all hospitals.

  • Catholic hospital charity care accounts for 2.8 percent of total patient revenue.
  • For-profit hospitals provide charity care at 2 percent and public hospitals at 5.6 percent.

Myth #5: Catholic doctrine only affects a few aspects of reproductive health care. 

Fact: In addition to contraception and abortion, the following procedures are restricted by Catholic doctrine:

  • Postpartum and direct sterilization;
  • Elimination of an ectopic pregnancy;
  • Medical assistance with a miscarriage or other perinatal loss;
  • Screening for fatal fetal anomalies;
  • Artificial reproductive technologies involving donor gametes.

Myth #6: Patients can choose to go to non-Catholic facilities for care. 

Fact: Patients and physicians who work at Catholic hospitals are often unaware of the scope of restrictions.

Fact: Catholic hospitals are often a community’s only choice for health care.

  • Thirty Catholic hospitals are sole-provider hospitals, meaning they are located more than 35 miles from a similar hospital or provider.
  • These hospitals receive more money from the federal government for being sole providers in a region.

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