June 12, 2014 — An annual spending bill that funds HHS and the Departments of Labor and Education could be a target for a policy rider aimed at undermining the federal contraceptive coverage rules, CQ Roll Call reports.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who previously has sponsored legislation targeting the rules, said his decision on whether to offer such an amendment could depend on an upcoming Supreme Court ruling over the rules (Attias/Hallerman, CQ Roll Call, 6/11).
The rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most for-profit, private businesses to offer contraceptive coverage in their employer-sponsored health plans. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, and religiously affiliated not-for-profits are eligible for an accommodation that ensures they do not have to pay for or directly provide coverage to their employees (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/6).
The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on challenges to the rules from Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts retail chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet maker (CQ Roll Call, 6/11). The owners of both companies have raised religious objections to offering contraceptive coverage in their businesses' employer-sponsored health plans.
The justices are considering whether the companies are entitled to protections under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141) and, if so, whether the rules place a substantial burden on the companies, among other questions (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/26).
Chances of a Rider in the Senate
The Senate Appropriations Committee was widely expected to mark up the fiscal year 2015 HHS-Labor-Education bill on Thursday, but it is no longer clear when that might happen, according to CQ HealthBeat (Young, CQ HealthBeat, 6/11).
Blunt, who serves on the committee, said earlier in the week that he is open to pursuing an amendment that could restrict contraceptive coverage if the Supreme Court rules against Hobby Lobby and Conestoga.
Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) -- chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies -- said he has "no idea" if any senators will offer such amendments, but added, "I hope, if there [are] any, we can defeat them."
Chances of a Rider in the House
Nearly 100 House members in April sent a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies in support of including a bill (HR 940) by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) in its 2015 spending package (CQ Roll Call, 6/11).
Black's bill would allow individuals or employers to refuse to obtain or provide health insurance coverage for any service they oppose on moral or religious grounds. The bill also would boost protections for physicians, hospitals and other health care providers who refuse to provide abortion services (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/7).
According to CQ Roll Call, the subcommittee's markup of the spending bill has not yet been scheduled (CQ Roll Call, 6/11).