Thursday, March 1, 2012

Blunt Amendment "Respect for Rights of Conscience" Defeated!

Roy Blunt - R(MO)
March 1, 2012 - In a show of logic and common sense, the United States Senate defeated a bill proposed by Senate Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri today that as an amendment to a submitted highway bill would have given not only religious groups but any employer the ability to be exempted from the birth control coverage requirement mandated by 2010 healthcare law due to moral objections.

After further review of this proposed amendment it would have potentially placed any other covered procedure or medication on the chopping block due to objections of conscience.  This would have been a tragic situation were it not for cooler heads in the Senate prevailing.

The 51 to 48 vote to kill the bill, was largely along party lines.  The exceptions were Democrats, Robert Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska who voted for the amendment, and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine who voted against the amendment.

Even after President Obama offered to change the mandate to require insurance companies to offer birth control free of charge, instead of requiring employers and religious organizations to offer it, Republican's insisted on submitting this bill.  By leaving healthcare up to conscience, they would be putting healthcare options completely in the employers hands.  Who is to say what would be exempted due to a moral objection and what would be exempted due to purely financial reasons?  In the end the employee is the one that would suffer at the hands of employer greed or religious belief regardless of the beliefs of the employee.

Fortunately, justice was served today.

Full Text of the Blunt Amendment

(a) Findings and Purposes.–
(1) FINDINGS.–Congress finds the following:
(A) As Thomas Jefferson declared to New London Methodists in 1809, “[n]o provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority”.
(B) Jefferson’s statement expresses a conviction on respect for conscience that is deeply embedded in the history and traditions of our Nation and codified in numerous State and Federal laws, including laws on health care.
(C) Until enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148, in this section referred to as “PPACA”), the Federal Government has not sought to impose specific coverage or care requirements that infringe on the rights of conscience of insurers, purchasers of insurance, plan sponsors, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders, such as individual or institutional health care providers.
(D) PPACA creates a new nationwide requirement for health plans to cover “essential health benefits” and “preventive services” (including a distinct set of “preventive services for women”), delegating to the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to provide a list of detailed services under each category, and imposes other new requirements with respect to the provision of health care services.
(E) While PPACA provides an exemption for some religious groups that object to participation in Government health programs generally, it does not allow purchasers, plan sponsors, and other stakeholders with religious or moral objections to specific items or services to decline providing or obtaining coverage of such items or services, or allow health care providers with such objections to decline to provide them.
(F) By creating new barriers to health insurance and causing the loss of existing insurance arrangements, these inflexible mandates in PPACA jeopardize the ability of individuals to exercise their rights of conscience and their ability to freely participate in the health insurance and health care marketplace.
(2) PURPOSES.–The purposes of this section are–
(A) to ensure that health care stakeholders retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions, without fear of being penalized or discriminated against under PPACA; and
(B) to ensure that no requirement in PPACA creates new pressures to exclude those exercising such conscientious objection from health plans or other programs under PPACA.
(b) Respect for Rights of Conscience.–
(1) IN GENERAL.–Section 1302(b) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148; 42 U.S.C. 18022(b)) is amended by adding at the end the following new paragraph:
“(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.
“(B) FOR HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS.–Nothing in this title (or any amendment made by this title) shall be construed to require an individual or institutional health care provider, or authorize a health plan to require a provider, to provide, participate in, or refer for a specific item or service contrary to the provider’s religious beliefs or moral convictions. Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, a health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide timely or other access to items or services under this title (or any amendment made by this title) or to fulfill any other requirement under this title because it has respected the rights of conscience of such a provider pursuant to this paragraph.
“(C) NONDISCRIMINATION IN EXERCISING RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE.–No Exchange or other official or entity acting in a governmental capacity in the course of implementing this title (or any amendment made by this title) shall discriminate against a health plan, plan sponsor, health care provider, or other person because of such plan’s, sponsor’s, provider’s, or person’s unwillingness to provide coverage of, participate in, or refer for, specific items or services pursuant to this paragraph.
“(D) CONSTRUCTION.–Nothing in subparagraph (A) or (B) shall be construed to permit a health plan or provider to discriminate in a manner inconsistent with subparagraphs (B) and (D) of paragraph (4).
“(E) PRIVATE RIGHTS OF ACTION.–The various protections of conscience in this paragraph constitute the protection of individual rights and create a private cause of action for those persons or entities protected. Any person or entity may assert a violation of this paragraph as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding.
“(i) FEDERAL JURISDICTION.–The Federal courts shall have jurisdiction to prevent and redress actual or threatened violations of this paragraph by granting all forms of legal or equitable relief, including, but not limited to, injunctive relief, declaratory relief, damages, costs, and attorney fees.
“(ii) INITIATING PARTY.–An action under this paragraph may be instituted by the Attorney General of the United States, or by any person or entity having standing to complain of a threatened or actual violation of this paragraph, including, but not limited to, any actual or prospective plan sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering a plan, any actual or prospective purchaser or beneficiary of a plan, and any individual or institutional health care provider.
“(iii) INTERIM RELIEF.–Pending final determination of any action under this paragraph, the court may at any time enter such restraining order or prohibitions, or take such other actions, as it deems necessary.
“(G) ADMINISTRATION.–The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services is designated to receive complaints of discrimination based on this paragraph and coordinate the investigation of such complaints.
“(H) ACTUARIAL EQUIVALENCE.–Nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit the Secretary from issuing regulations or other guidance to ensure that health plans excluding specific items or services under this paragraph shall have an aggregate actuarial value at least equivalent to that of plans at the same level of coverage that do not exclude such items or services.”.
(2) EFFECTIVE DATE.–The amendment made by paragraph (1) shall be effective as if included in the enactment of Public Law 111-148.

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