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Senate Tables Blunt Amendment That Would Have Allowed Employers, Insurers To Deny Benefits for Moral, Religious Reasons

Senate Tables Blunt Amendment That Would Have Allowed Employers, Insurers To Deny Benefits for Moral, Religious Reasons

March 1, 2012 — The Senate on Thursday voted 51-48 to table an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would allow employers and health plans to deny coverage of any health services required to be covered under the health reform law (PL 111-148) for moral or religious reasons, National Journal reports. Blunt proposed the measure last month, before President Obama announced changes to a religious exemption to new federal contraceptive coverage rules (McCarthy, National Journal, 3/1).

One Republican -- Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) -- joined the majority of Democrats in voting to table the amendment, while three Democrats -- Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) -- voted against tabling it.

Opponents of the amendment had cautioned that it would give employers and insurers the ability to deny coverage of any health care service (Bassett, Huffington Post, 3/1). Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said, "It would not only take away the ability of women to get contraception through their insurance, but it would threaten every single essential health care service, every single preventive healthcare service, if your employer or your insurance company had a moral objection" (Sink, "Hill Tube," The Hill, 2/29).

Blunt offered the measure as an amendment to a transportation bill. Before Thursday's vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- who last month refused to allow a vote on the amendment -- called it an "extreme ideological amendment" that "has no place on a transportation bill" (Ryan, "Floor Action Blog," The Hill, 3/1).

During the floor debate, Blunt said the vote would not be the end of the fight over the contraceptive coverage rules. "This issue will not go away unless the administration takes it away by giving people of faith those First Amendment protections" to refuse to cover health services they oppose, he said (Haberkorn/Nocera, Politico, 3/1).

Romney Draws Scrutiny Over Conflicting Statements on Blunt Amendment

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in an interview on Wednesday said he opposes the Blunt amendment, but his campaign quickly reversed the statement, saying that he misunderstood the question, the New York Times reports (Barbaro/Eckholm, New York Times, 2/29).

According to a transcript of the interview, Ohio News Networks' Jim Heath asked Romney whether he had taken a position on "Blunt-Rubio," which Heath said "deals with banning or allowing employers to ban providing female contraception" (Halloran, "It's All Politics," NPR, 2/29).

Romney replied, "I'm not for the bill, but look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I'm not going there" (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/29).

Soon after the interview, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul issued a statement stating that Romney backs the Blunt amendment. "Regarding the Blunt bill, the way the question was asked was confusing," Saul said, adding, "Gov. Romney supports the Blunt bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions and people of faith."A Romney aide said the Blunt amendment "does not ban contraception" and that Heath posed the question "in a very rushed and confused manner" (Sonmez, "Election 2012," Washington Post, 2/29).

The Obama campaign also released a statement from deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter. "In one hour, Mitt Romney showed why women don't trust him for one minute. It took little more than an hour for him to commit his latest flip-flop. Even worse, he ended up on the wrong side of an issue of critical importance to women," Cutter said (Schultheis, "Burns & Haberman," Politico, 2/29).

Latest Kaiser Poll Shows Support for Contraceptive Coverage Rules

Sixty-three percent of U.S. residents support the contraceptive coverage rules, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation's Health Tracking Poll released on Thursday, CQ HealthBeat reports (Bristol, CQ HealthBeat, 3/1).

The survey of 1,500 adults showed that support the policy is supported by 83% of Democrats, 62% of independents and 42% of Republicans. In addition, 60% of Catholics and 57% of evangelicals support the rules (Morgan, Reuters, 3/1). Twenty-four percent of respondents said they view the matter as mainly an issue of women's rights, while 23% said it was more about religious freedom and 26% said it was about both. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they trusted Democrats more on the issue, while 32% said they trusted Republicans the most (Sanger-Katz, National Journal, 3/1).

State Laws Create Patchwork of Regulations for Religious Employers

In related news, laws in 28 states that already require employer health plans to cover contraception -- including the 20 that have some type of religious exemption -- have resulted in a variety of approaches to the regulations among Catholic institutions, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the Journal, in some states, religious employers are able to bypass state contraceptive coverage requirements by choosing to self-insure, meaning that they assume responsibility for their own health costs. Some Catholic employers said they offer contraceptive coverage because their states require it, while others said they chose to offer the coverage as a way to attract and retain non-Catholic employees (Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 2/29).