Will a Catholic Group Running Walgreens Clinics in Two States Impose Restrictions on Health Care? August 20, 2016

Will a Catholic Group Running Walgreens Clinics in Two States Impose Restrictions on Health Care?

If you’ve ever visited a Walgreens walk-in clinic, you know just how convenient and valuable that sort of access can be. That’s why it’s concerning that a Catholic company will own and operate more than two dozen Walgreens clinics in Missouri and Illinois beginning this month.

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Catholic hospitals, under the directives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, are notorious for refusing to provide care that violates Catholic doctrine.

Which leads to some very important questions: Will these Catholic-overseen Walgreens clinics prescribe birth control? Will they refer women seeking abortions to doctors who can perform them? How will they deal with transgender patients who need hormone therapy? If there are restrictions on care, will patients know about them in advance?

In short: What matters more to Walgreens: The patients or Catholic doctrine?

That’s what a group of concerned organization want to know, and they sent joint letters to both Walgreens and SSM Health (the Catholic group) to find out what the new policies would be:

“We are concerned that the clinics will likewise be required to follow the [USCCB directives], thereby severely curtailing access to important reproductive health services, information, and referrals,” MergerWatch, the National Health Law Program, and the American Civil Liberties Unions of Illinois and Missouri wrote in a letter to Walgreens on Wednesday. They also sent a letter to SSM Health.

In a statement emailed to Rewire, Walgreens said its relationship with SSM Health “will not have any impact on any of our current clinic or pharmacy policies and procedures.”

SSM Health emailed a statement saying it “will continue to offer the same services that are currently available at Walgreens Healthcare Clinics today.” If a patient needs services “that are beyond the scope of what is appropriate for a retail clinic setting, they will be referred to a primary care physician or other provider of their choice,” the statement read.

The referrals will take place even in the case of abortion, the Catholic group later added.

That’s certainly promising. But I find it hard to believe that Catholic-based clinics are just going to ignore their own guiding beliefs when it comes to prescribing birth control pills to patients. Why would they be okay with it in these clinics even through they would never do it in their own hospitals?

The ACLU of Illinois is very clear on what those conflicts would be:

These directives expressly forbid contraceptive counseling and prescriptions, which are the kinds of primary care services women often seek at clinics, including those located within drug stores.

The Bishops’ Directives also forbid staff of Catholic-affiliated health care institutions to provide patients with information about or referrals for other types of reproductive health care, such as abortions, fertility treatments, vasectomies and tubal ligations. LGBTQ individuals and their families could also face discrimination at institutions following the ERDs, depending on interpretation of the Directives.

Those are the directives that SSM Health says they’re going to ignore in order to provide proper care to patients. If they’re being honest, then good for them. But Catholic Church-affiliated groups don’t exactly have a stellar relationship with the truth.

It’s a story worth keeping an eye on as Catholic groups continue gaining a foothold in the broader health care marketplace. It may not be long before lawsuits are filed against these clinics by patients who can’t get the help they need because the Church forbids it.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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