U.S. Senate Votes Down Blunt Amendment on Health Care Coverage




California Healthline –

March 02, 2012: On Thursday, the Senate voted 51-48 to table an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would have allowed employers and health plans to deny coverage of any health services for moral or religious reasons, Politico reports (Haberkorn/Nocera, Politico, 3/1).

Blunt proposed the measure last month, before President Obama announced changes to a religious exemption to new federal contraceptive coverage rules (McCarthy, National Journal, 3/1).

One Republican — Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) — joined the majority of Democrats in voting to table the amendment, while three Democrats — Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) — voted against tabling it.

Blunt offered the measure as an amendment to a transportation bill. Before Thursday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — who last month refused to allow a vote on the amendment — called it an “extreme ideological amendment” that “has no place on a transportation bill” (Ryan, “Floor Action Blog,” The Hill, 3/1).

During the floor debate, Blunt said the vote would not be the end of the fight over the contraceptive coverage rules. “This issue will not go away unless the administration takes it away by giving people of faith those First Amendment protections” to refuse to cover health services they oppose, he said (Politico, 3/1).

Jones Comments on Tabling of Blunt Amendment

In a statement, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (D) said, “I am pleased that the U.S. Senate defeated the Blunt amendment, which would have allowed insurers and employers to deny women access to contraceptives or any health care benefit they objected to.”

Jones said that many states — including California — already require health insurance policies to cover contraception. He added that “women should not have to worry that they will lose access to any essential health care services, particularly those they have long relied upon” (Department of Insurance release, 3/1).

House Republicans Undeterred By Senate Vote

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said House Republicans will continue to fight the contraceptive coverage rules, despite the vote to table Blunt’s amendment, the New York Times’ “The Caucus” reports (Weisman, “The Caucus,” New York Times, 3/1).

Speaking prior to the Senate vote, Boehner said that “it’s important for us to win this issue,” adding that he was “trying to find a way, frankly, to get a bipartisan agreement to solve this problem” (Sanchez, Roll Call, 3/1). Boehner did not offer details about how the House would proceed on legislation but hinted that it would differ from the Blunt amendment (“The Caucus,” New York Times, 3/1).

Sebelius Testifies on Contraception

On Thursday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, addressing GOP criticisms of the new contraception coverage rules, CQ Today reports (Attias, CQ Today, 3/1).
Responding to questions about how self-insured companies would handle the contraception coverage requirement, Sebelius said that such companies can use third-party administrators to provide contraception coverage to employees (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 3/1).

She also noted that the 28 states that already require contraceptive coverage have “a variety of arrangements already in place,” adding that administration officials “intend to be informed by that when we propose the rules.” She said HHS “will offer a variety of strategies to make sure that religious liberties are respected,” such as “through a third-party administrator or …. a side-by-side plan or many other arrangements” (Pecquet, “Healthwatch,” The Hill, 3/1).


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