Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Blunt Amendment (#1520) on Conscience Protections

Senator Blunt has offered an amendment (#1520) to S. 1813 regarding conscience protections.  A vote on the amendment is scheduled to occur at a time TBD on Thursday, likely on the motion to table.
  • The amendment adds a new section to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, P.L. 111-148) adding three new conscience protections regarding the mandated “essential benefits” required by the law:
    1. Health plan sponsors could decline to provide coverage of specific items or services mandated by the law that are “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering such plans,” or are contrary to the religious beliefs of the purchaser or beneficiary of said coverage.
    2. Health care providers could decline to provide, participate in, or refer for health care services that are contrary to that provider’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.
    3. Exchanges or other governmental entities may not discriminate against a health plan, plan sponsor, provider, or other person for exercising their conscience rights under the amendment.
  • The amendment provides a private right of action for individuals or entities whose conscience rights have been violated, with jurisdiction located in federal courts.
  • The amendment responds to the ongoing controversy following the Obama Administration’s requirement that religious-affiliated employers, along with all other health plan sponsors nationwide, must provide medical services that violate the tenets of their faith.
  • While the Administration recently announced an “accommodation” designed to diffuse the political controversy, many faithbased groups have found it insufficient.  Moreover, press outlets from the New York Times to the Washington Post have expressed strong skepticism that even this half-measure could be implemented successfully.
  • Additional background information on the religious liberty issue can be found here.
Arguments in Favor
  • This amendment restores the conscience protections provided to all Americans for the past 220 years, before Obamacare imposed an unprecedented federal mandate on religious-affiliated organizations to provide services that violate the tenets of their faith.
  • Religious institutions and individuals should not be forced to choose between violating the law and violating their faith; this amendment would restore that balance.
  • This amendment does NOT impact any law, federal or state, other than the President’s unpopular 2700-page health care measure.
  • This amendment would NOT impede access to contraception, which would remain widely available.  However, passage of this amendment would ensure that all Americans would not be forced to choose between compliance with a government mandate and adherence to their personal religious beliefs.