KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Senate Rejects Blunt Amendment

In a mainly party-line vote, the Senate rejected this amendment, offered by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., to an unrelated transportation bill. It would have broadened religious exemptions to the Obama administration's birth control rule. 

The New York Times: Senate Rejects Step Targeting Coverage Of Contraception
The Senate on Thursday upheld President Obama's birth control policy, voting to kill a Republican effort to let employers and health insurance companies deny coverage for contraceptives and other items they object to on religious or moral grounds (Pear, 3/1).

The Washington Post: Birth Control Exemption Bill, The 'Blunt Amendment,' Killed In Senate
The measure, an amendment proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to a highway funding bill, would have allowed not only religious groups but any employer with moral objections to opt out of the coverage requirement. And it would have allowed such employers to do so in the case of not only contraception but any health service required by the 2010 health-care law (Aizenman and Helderman, 3/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Turns Away Birth-Control Measure
The Senate voted 51-48 Thursday to set aside a measure that would have allowed employers to omit insurance coverage for health services they find morally objectionable, the latest step in a fiery debate that has pushed its way into the presidential race and congressional campaigning (Bendavid, 3/1).

The Associated Press: GOP Senators Fail To Reverse Birth Control Rule
In an election year battle mixing birth control, religion and politics, Democrats narrowly blocked an effort by Senate Republicans to overturn President Barack Obama's order that most employers or their insurers cover the cost of contraceptives. The 51-48 vote on Thursday killed a measure that would have allowed employers and insurers to opt out of portions of the president's health care law they found morally objectionable. That would have included the law's requirement to cover the costs of birth control (Kellman, 3/1).

Reuters: US Senate Rejects Republican Birth Control Challenge
The U.S. Senate narrowly backed a key plank of President Barack Obama's healthcare law on Thursday by rejecting a sweeping Republican measure that would have allowed employers to opt out of birth control coverage and other services on moral grounds. Senators voted 51-48 to set aside a measure proposed by Republican Roy Blunt that would have exempted employers like Catholic hospitals, universities and charities from an Obama healthcare provision that requires most employers to offer free insurance coverage for women's contraceptives (Morgan and Ferraro, 3/1).

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Senate Dems Defeat Contraceptives-Policy Repeal, Without Casey
Senate Democrats narrowly defeated efforts Thursday to repeal a portion of President Obama's controversial policy requiring insurers to pay for contraception coverage. Missing from their ranks? Pennsylvania's Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. In a vote that could feature prominently in his reelection campaign this fall, Casey broke from his party and backed a Republican amendment that would have allowed employers and insurance companies to opt out of medical coverage that conflicted with their moral beliefs (Roebuck, 3/1).

Politico: GOP Mulls Contraception Strategy
Fresh off their defeat on the Senate floor Thursday, congressional Republicans pledged to move forward with their efforts to broaden the exemptions from the Obama administration's contraception coverage rule. But they were left without a clear strategy for moving ahead, and the fight seemed to have energized Democrats, who welcomed the debate as a chance to win over independent women during an election year (Haberkorn, 3/2).

Bloomberg: U.S. Senate Democrats Seeks Political Gain From Contraception Coverage Vote
Senate Democrats say Republicans in close re-election races will suffer for voting to let employers and insurers refuse to cover birth control and other health services that violate their religious beliefs. The Democratic-controlled chamber voted 51-48 today to block the proposal by Missouri Republican Roy Blunt. It would have canceled a requirement from President Barack Obama’s administration that health insurers cover contraception without charge for insured employees of religiously affiliated institutions (Hunter, 3/1).

NPR's SHOTS blog: Majorities In Senate And Public Support Birth Control Coverage
Senate Democrats, like New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg, said the amendment's language was so vague it would allow employers to deny coverage of any benefit to which they had a religious or moral objection. "Imagine that your boss is going to decide whether or not you're acting morally," he said (Rovner and Hensley, 3/1). 

On the House side -

St. Louis Beacon: Senate Rejects Blunt's 'Conscience' Amendment; Battle Over Birth Control Issue Moves To House
In his remarks, [Sen. Dick] Durbin, D-Ill. ... contended that its "conscience" loopholes would have led to "a patchwork quilt of health-insurance coverage with many people in this country — men and women — denied basic health coverage in their health insurance because the employer believes 'in conscience' that it shouldn't be offered. That is an impossible situation." Blunt rejected that interpretation, saying that "this provision would simply preserve the fundamental religious freedom that we enjoy today" (Koenig, 3/1). 

Politico: Boehner Vague On Next Steps On Birth Control
House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday the "House will decide" how to proceed on the contraception coverage controversy, striking a much more cautious tone than he did three weeks ago when he endorsed legislation to overturn the new health reform rule in a rare floor speech. At a brief news conference just minutes before the Senate narrowly voted to kill the Blunt amendment, Boehner repeatedly framed the issue in terms of religious liberty but said his chamber would decide on its course only after the Senate acted (Feder, 3/1).

In the background -

The Hill: VP: We 'Screwed Up' Contraception Rule
Vice President Biden acknowledged the administration "screwed up" the first iteration of the contraception mandate, which eventually was changed in an attempt to please angry Catholic leaders. Speaking at Iowa State University on Thursday, Biden, who is Catholic, said the second version of the rule is "where it should have been in the first place" (Parnes, 3/1).

The Hill: McConnell Vows Full-Fledged Assault On Health Law Amid Threat To His Leadership
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said he's committed to repealing President Obama's healthcare reform law after a conservative group threatened to go for his head over the issue. The Hill reported Thursday that McConnell told his conference this week that he does not want to vote again on repealing the law until after the November elections. In response, the conservative Restore America's Voice Foundation said it would "unleash" its 2.3 million activists to call for McConnell's resignation if he didn't retract his comments (Pecquet and Bolton, 3/1).

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