Legislation designed to prevent employers from excluding contraceptives from their employees’ health plans fell a few votes short of the 60 votes needed to move the bill forward in today’s Senate session. The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act was introduced to the Senate last week by Senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall. The bill requires that employers who provide health insurance benefits offer policies that cover the essential health benefits required under the Affordable Care Act. Included in these essential benefits are FDA approved contraceptives.
The legislation is proposed as a ‘fix’ to the Supreme Court decision in the suit filed by retailer Hobby Lobby, which ruled that closely held corporations may be exempted from ACA provisions that violate corporate owners’ religious beliefs. When introducing the bill, Senator Murray said she felt the legislation is necessary to prevent CEOs and corporations from coming between employees and their access to healthcare.
Washington Senator Maria Cantwell urged her colleagues to vote yes on the motion to move the bill forward, saying the Supreme Court has created a slippery slope with its decision. Cantwell says that corporations could use the ruling to avoid providing coverage for other essential health benefits such as anti-depressant drugs, which Scientologists object to, and blood transfusions, which conflict with tenets of the Jehovah Witnesses. Cantwell says that prescriptions are an essential part of a woman’s health plan and should not be considered an add-on.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, in an impassioned floor speech, called the legislation an assault by the Democratic Party on the Bill of Rights and on the Roman Catholic Church. He plead the case of The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity that provides care for the elderly and dying. According to Cruz, this bill would force the Little Sisters to violate their religious convictions or suffer millions in fines, which would force them to shut down their charity.
“What has become of the Democratic Party? When did they become so extreme that they would actually propose fining nuns millions of dollars if they’re unwilling to pay for the abortion-producing drugs of others?” — Sen. Ted Cruz
The Little Sisters of the Poor is one of several religion-based organizations that have filed suit to halt implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health plans include coverage for contraceptives. Under an accommodation made by the Obama administration, the Sisters do not have to pay for contraceptive coverage, but they must direct their health plan administrator to supply this coverage for employees. The Sisters believe that completing the paperwork involved in this accommodation violates their religious convictions.