Ladies and Gents, here’s the all-male panel that are debating access to birth control in Congress today:
But it’s much, much bigger than birth control now. This is Adam Serwer on the new Republican proposal to allow any employer a veto on virtually any aspect of health insurance coverage.
In their latest move in the battle over contraception coverage, top Republicans in Congress are going for broke: They’re now pushing a bill that would allow employers and insurance companies to pick and choose which health benefits to provide based simply on executives’ personal moral beliefs. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the top GOPer in the Senate, has already endorsed the proposal, and it could come to a vote this week. The measure would make the religious exemptions to President Barack Obama’s health care bill so large they’d swallow it whole.
“This is about gutting the Affordable Care Act and the protections it was meant to establish,” says Leila Abolfazli, a lawyer focusing at the National Women’s Law Center who focuses on health and reproductive rights.
Obama’s Affordable Care Act requires all health care plans to offer certain services and benefits, including birth control. Last week, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) offered a “conscience amendment,” to the law, pitching it as a way to allay religious employers’ qualms about providing birth control to their employees.
But Blunt’s proposal doesn’t just apply to religious employers and birth control. Instead, it would allow any insurer or employer, religiously affiliated or otherwise, to opt out of providing any health care services required by federal law—everything from maternity care to screening for diabetes. Employers wouldn’t have to cite religious reasons for their decision; they could just say the treatment goes against their moral convictions. That exception could include almost anything—an employer could theoretically claim a “moral objection” to the cost of providing a given benefit. The bill would also allow employers to sue if state or federal regulators try to make them comply with the law.
Care for a pregnancy outside marriage was the first thing that came to mind when I read the bill, because of course any employer could cite a religious reason for refusing to cover that, and state law wouldn’t protect people, because this is federal law.
“One of the fundamental purposes of the Affordable Care Act was making sure all health insurance plans cover basic services. The Blunt amendment would do away with that,” says Sarah Lipton-Lubet, a policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union. “A business could deny coverage for cervical cancer screening for unmarried employees, out of opposition to premarital sex.”
Got that? This is a deregulatory push cloaked in a religious objection. President Obama and Democrats are trying to standardize and secure the same access to health care for everyone, and Republicans are deliberately acting to reduce health insurance security, reliability and portability.