KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Catholic Bishops Call Birth Control Compromise ‘Simply Unworkable’

A wealthy backer of GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum apologizes for aspirin-as-birth-control comment, a day after female lawmakers stage walkout from a GOP-led committee hearing after no women were allowed to testify for the contraception mandate.

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No women were allowed to testify on contraception at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Thursday. Here, the five male witnesses, are sworn in (Photo by the Oversight Committee).

The Wall Street Journal: Catholic Bishops Fight Contraception Rule At House Hearing
Catholic bishops took their fight against a new federal rule requiring health insurance plans to cover contraception to a House hearing, where a representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops testified that Obama administration changes announced last week are "simply unworkable" (Radnofsky, 2/16).

The Washington Post: Lawmakers Debate Mandated Coverage Of Contraceptives In Health-Care Law
Tempers flared on Capitol Hill on Thursday as lawmakers waded into an increasingly heated debate over the mandated coverage of contraceptives under the nation’s new health-care law. Several Democrats walked out of a House hearing on the provision, accusing Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of blocking testimony from a female witness who supports the mandate (Kliff, 2/16).

NPR: Birth Control: Latest Collision Between Individual Conscience And Society
Thursday, a House committee heard representatives from groups representing some Catholics, Jews, Lutherans, Baptists and others upset that the decision was infringing on their religious freedom. ... Democrats and other critics protested the hearing because initially, the witnesses only included men. Two women testified in a later panel. The current controversy over insurance coverage of contraceptives is the latest chapter in the long and often bitter history of conflicts between the right to follow one's conscience and the demands of society (Stein, 2/16).

The New York Times: Passions Flare As House Debates Birth Control Rule
Lutheran and Baptist clergymen and an Orthodox rabbi joined a Roman Catholic bishop in telling lawmakers that Mr. Obama’s latest policy of shifting the responsibility for paying for the contraceptives from religious institutions to their health insurers was unworkable and did not allay concerns about government entanglement with religion (Pear, 2/16).

CQ HealthBeat: Catholics, Religious Leaders Slam Contraception Rule At House Hearing
Republicans portrayed the issue as one of religious freedom rather than access to health care. Democrats, however, labeled the hearing that featured only a lineup of Catholic and religious leaders opposed to the rule a “sham” and told the clerics that they were being used for GOP political purposes. Two Democratic women — Carolyn B. Maloney of New York and Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia — walked out in protest because their female witness was not included on the all-male hearing panel. Maloney later returned to the session (Norman, 2/16).

The New York Times: Religious Groups Equate Some Contraceptives With Abortion
Adding to their passionate opposition to the rule that employees of religiously affiliated institutions must receive insurance coverage for birth control, Roman Catholic bishops and some evangelical groups have asserted that it also requires coverage of some forms of abortion. They contend that methods of contraception including morning-after pills and IUDs can be considered “abortifacients” because, these advocates say, they can act to prevent pregnancy after a man’s sperm has fertilized a woman’s egg (Belluck and Eckholm, 2/16).

McClatchy: At Religious Freedom Hearing On Contraception: 'This Is An Issue Worth Dying For'
Religious leaders of different faiths stoked the national debate over contraception Thursday, converging on Capitol Hill and charging the Obama administration with attempting to violate their religious freedoms. ... "I don't think there should be any compromise when it comes to our rights to religious freedom," said William Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College in Charlotte, N.C. "I came here to ask for your help. This is an issue worth dying for" (Ordonez, 2/16).

National Journal: Contraception Circus Reigns At Oversight Hearing
Chairman Darrell Issa’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee almost always delivers a good show. So when the California Republican dove into the tidal wave of contraception controversy on Thursday, it was bound to be a circus. But it might not have been the kind of circus he intended: Planned Parenthood coined the hashtag #Issacircus on Twitter, prompting hundreds of tweets about the committee’s hearing on a controversial rule from the Obama administration requiring religious organizations to offer health insurance plans that cover birth control free of cost to women (McCarthy, 2/16).

The Hill: All-Male Picture Tells 1,000 Words, Say Backers Of Birth Control Policy
Female Democrats staged a walkout from a GOP-led committee hearing Thursday after no women were allowed to testify in support of the White House’s contraception mandate.  Their protest, and the optics of an initial panel consisting only of men, underscored the difficulty Republicans are having in framing the issue as a fight over religious freedom. Democrats want to make it a debate over contraception and women’s health, a shift that could help the party win over female voters in an election year (Baker and Lillis, 2/16).

The controversy also spilled over to the presidential campaign.

The Hill: Santorum Donor Friess Apologizes For ‘Aspirin Joke’
Foster Friess, a high-profile donor for Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, apologized on Friday for what he called his failed "aspirin joke." Friess, referencing an old joke about closed knees when discussing the controversy over mandatory access to contraception, told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Thursday, "back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. ...  The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly" (Cohn, 2/17).

Talking Points Memo: Santorum Backer Apologizes For Birth Control ‘Joke’
Foster Friess, the billionaire backer of the pro-Rick Santorum super PAC, apologized early Friday for "joking" that women should put "aspirin between their knees" as a form of birth control. Friess wrote on his blog: After listening to the segment tonight, I can understand how I confused people with the way I worded the joke and their taking offense is very understandable. To all those who took my joke as modern day approach I deeply apologize and seek your forgiveness (2/17).

Los Angeles Times: Santorum Dogged By Donor's Aspirin-As-Birth-Control Remark
A wealthy backer of GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum left his interviewer scratching her head Thursday when he suggested that in the olden days, birth control was less expensive because women just squeezed an aspirin between their knees to prevent them from having sex. The remark was about the last thing Santorum needed on a day that featured a renewed discussion of a 2006 interview in which he said he believed birth control was "harmful to women" and "harmful to our society" because it encouraged sex outside of marriage (Geiger, 2/16).

In other contraception-related news, a survey of insurers shows skepticism they will make up the costs of covering birth control.

Reuters: Insurers See Costs In Obama Birth Control Rule
The administration has said insurers should ultimately make up any initial costs by avoiding expenses associated with unintended pregnancies. But a new survey of 15 large health plans shows they are dubious of such savings. Asked what impact the requirement will have on their costs in the year to two years after it goes into effect, 40 percent of the participants said they expect the requirement will increase costs through higher pharmacy expenses (Krauskopf, 2/16).

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