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Republicans Not Giving Up on Birth Control Issue

March 2, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

Despite losing a vote in the Senate yesterday, congressional Republicans are doubling down on their efforts to let employers to pick and choose which health services are covered by their insurance plans under the new health care law.


“This fight is not over,” said Senate GOP Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO), the author of the amendment that was tabled 51-48 on Thursday. “I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to protect the rights that make our nation great.”

Though many Republicans would like to give the issue a rest, fearing voter backlash, the GOP can’t easily soft-peddle in this culture war conflagrataion. And that was clear today on both sides of the Capitol.

“I think it’s important for us to win this issue,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters Thursday, echoing the party line that the Obama administration’s requirement that most employer health plans include contraceptive coverage violates religious liberty.

Under the new health care law, employers would be required to offer insurance plans that meet certain minimum standards for covered benefits. What the Republicans are proposing is to allow employers to declare that certain health services are contrary to their “moral convictions” and offer insurance plans that do not cover them. The most commonly discussed case is that of Catholic employers being required to offer birth control coverage, but the Republicans proposal would apply more broadly. It would effectively roll back the responsibility of employers under the new health care law to provide their employees a basic level of health coverage and give them a mechanism to offer lesser coverage while avoiding the penalties they would face under the health care law as passed by Congress. 

Here’s the key operative provision of the amendment the Republicans are pushing:


(A) FOR HEALTH PLANS.—A health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits package described in subsection (a) (or preventive health services described in section 2713 of the Public Health Service Act), to fail to be a qualified health plan, or to fail to fulfill any other requirement under this title on the basis that it declines to provide coverage of specific items or services because—

(i) providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan; or

(ii) such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.

For your reference, the section of the health care law this would be amending can be read here.

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