Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement on Wednesday, February 29 criticizing a proposal that was, until recently, being considered in the Senate (S.1467, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011). The Blunt Amendment, as the proposal was known, would have amended the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) to allow even employers that have no religious affiliation to exclude coverage of any health service in health plans offered to their workers. It’s important to note that language of the proposal wasn't limited to contraception or to any particular preventive service. The measure was defeated in the Senate on Thursday, March 1, by 51-48.
Sebelius had warned that, under the proposed amendment to the ACA, any employer could restrict access to any health service it claims to have an objection to. Specifically, the proposal states “that nothing in PPACA shall be construed to 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. Prohibits a health plan from being considered to have failed to provide timely or other access to items or services or to fulfill any other requirement under PPACA because it has respected the rights of conscience of such a provider.”
So, under the Blunt Amendment, providers would not have to claim that they oppose a service only on religious grounds. General moral convictions would be sufficient.. It’s not difficult to imagine how far health insurance providers could have taken this amendment, claiming that the provision of a range of pricey services conflicts with its general moral convictions for a variety of reasons. Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney had both expressed support for the Blunt Amendment.
In her statement, Sebelius characterized the Blunt Amendment as “dangerous and wrong,” adding that, “The Obama administration believes that decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss.”
Sebelius also points out that, in February 2012, HHS reported that over 20 million American women in private health insurance plans have already gained access to at least one free preventive service because of the ACA.
For a comprehensive analysis of the ACA, and additional information on health reform and other developments in employee benefits, just click here.
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