A move by administrators of Nebraska's Medicaid program to deny coverage to 21 Sisters of Mercy in the state could have national implications for the future of religious life.
The Omaha World-Herald reported April 19 that, earlier this year, officials of the Nebraska Department Health and Human Services cut Medicaid benefits for the sisters, despite the sisters' vows of poverty. Medicaid is a federal program administered and partly funded by the states to provide health insurance for people who are poor or disabled.
The Sisters of Mercy in Nebraska have appealed the decision and a few of the sisters have had their benefits restored, but most are still in limbo, said congregation spokesperson Sandy Goetzinger.
"They're reviewing the cases one-by-one," Goetzinger said. "We continue to work collaboratively with the Department of Health and Human Services on this issue."
The cut came after state officials included the sisters' patrimony accounts when calculating whether their income and assets were low enough to qualify for coverage. Patrimony accounts are assets the sister owned at the time she entered the congregation and are held in a trust neither she nor the community can access unless the sister appeals to the Vatican and renounces her vows. Upon her death, the assets are distributed according to her wishes, usually to charities she has designated.
Medicaid covers almost half of what religious communities spend nationally on skilled nursing care, according to a Global Sisters Report analysis of church statistics.