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. The amendment would have broadened religious exemptions to the Obama administration's birth control rule.

The Washington Post: Birth Control Exemption Bill, The 'Blunt Amendment,’ Killed In Senate
The measure was among the most sweeping of several congressional efforts to broaden the current religious exemption in the birth control rule, which only fully exempts explicitly religious organizations such as churches from its requirement that worker health plans include contraceptive coverage with no out-of-pocket charges (Aizenman and Helderman, 3/1).

Politico: Blunt Amendment Defeated In Senate
The Senate defeated Sen. Roy Blunt's amendment to allow employers to refuse to cover health services Thursday, dealing Republicans a high-profile setback in the fight over the Obama administration's contraception coverage mandate. The vote is unlikely to end the fight over the contraception rule, though, as Blunt said the issue won't go away until the administration backs down and gives a broader religious exemption to the coverage mandate (Haberkorn and Nocera, 3/1).

The Hill's Floor Action Blog: Senate Rejects Blunt Amendment To Limit Birth-Control Mandate
The White House policy requires employers to include contraception in their employees' healthcare plans without charging a co-pay or deductible, but exempts churches and houses of worship. Religious-affiliated employers such as Catholic hospitals would not have to directly cover birth control in their healthcare plans, but their employees could still obtain it, without a co-pay, from their respective insurance companies (Ryan and Baker, 3/1).

Fox News: Senate Dems Stop 'Conscience Exemption' To Obama Birth Control Coverage Policy 
Blunt's amendment to a transportation bill would exempt employers from a new government mandate, soon to be put in place under the Patient's Protection and Affordable Care Act. Blunt, on the Senate floor shortly before the vote, staunchly defended his proposal and said it would not fade away no matter the outcome Thursday. Firing back at critics, the senator said the measure would do nothing to change existing policy. It would only apply to new health care overhaul provisions that have not yet taken effect (Turner, 3/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Birth-Control Measure Defeated In Senate 
The rhetoric reflected a debate that was unusually emotional on both sides. Democratic women decried the Blunt amendment as an attempt to roll back hard-fought rights. ... Republicans denounced Mr. Obama's rule as an encroachment on the First Amendment, saying it would force employers, including church-related institutions, to provide services that violate deeply held religious beliefs (Bendavid, 3/1). 

The New York Times: Senate Blocks G.O.P. Bill On Contraceptives Policy
The vote was 51 to 48. In effect, the Senate upheld President Obama's birth control policy. The policy guarantees that women have access to insurance coverage for contraceptives at no charge, through an employer's health plan or directly from an insurance company (Pear, 3/1).

USA Today On Politics: Senate Rejects Effort To Roll Back Birth Control Rule
The Obama rule has provoked a passionate election year debate about the line between religious freedom and women's health. ... The debate has been a politically perilous, if unavoidable one, for the GOP. While there is considerable support among the Republican base opposing the administration's ruling, the ruling is more popular with swing and independent voters — particularly women — who will play a decisive role in elections in November (Davis, 3/1).

Boston Globe: Senate Measure To Limit Health Coverage Voted Down
On the Senate floor this morning, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts pointedly criticized the Blunt amendment -- whose cosponsors are mostly Republican, including Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown – as an example of polarizing partisanship that has driven Maine Senator Olympia Snowe from running for reelection (Jan, 3/1).

CBS News Political Hotsheet: Senate Strikes Down Blunt Amendment On Contraception Rule
The issue has taken on national prominence amid the continued heated debate, with political candidates on both sides of the aisle being forced to comment on the politically divisive issue. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are seizing on the so-called "culture war" as a key campaign issue in 2012, and recently launched a new ad called "The GOP's War on Women" (Madison, 3/1).

In related news -

Los Angeles Times: Santorum Seizes On Romney's Hesitation On Blunt Amendment
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum opened up a fresh line of criticism over Mitt Romney's conservative beliefs, accusing his GOP rival of lacking the gut instincts to take the conservative line on social questions like government insurance mandates for contraception. Santorum delivered a blistering attack on Romney's stumble Wednesday when he told an Ohio interviewer that he opposed a Senate amendment to roll back the Obama administration policy. The amendment was defeated Thursday (West, 3/1). 

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