Today, the Senate is poised to vote on a proposal by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt that could potentially eviscerate health insurance guarantees for millions of Americans under the guise of protecting religious liberty.
The Blunt Amendment is indeed a blunt instrument, part of a deeply cynical and wholly phony debate over whether requiring employers to offer a basic package of benefits in their healthcare policies violates the “conscience” of those who may disagree with some of those health services (e.g., contraception) on the basis of religion or morality.
This started, of course, with resistance by some employers to contraception coverage.
Under the original rule that would have required Catholic hospitals and universities to pay for contraceptive coverage, there was a barely plausible religious liberty argument. Once the regulation was changed, so that insurance companies were to offer the coverage directly to employees without charge, even that argument evaporated. (Think about it: how does the fact that your employee can get a medical product that your religious beliefs prohibit you from using violate your First Amendment rights? You aren’t being forced to use it, and now, not even forced to pay for it.)
This is a violation only if your “religious liberty” includes the right to tell other people how to live.
For most of the talking heads and lawmakers making all the noise, this wasn’t even really about contraception. The real motive for this entire manufactured controversy is the Republicans’ persistent effort to kill the Affordable Care Act. The Blunt Amendment would give every employer the right to opt out of coverage for health care procedures and products that offend his conscience. (How we would know that a particular coverage really bothered his conscience rather than his pocketbook is an open question.)
Don’t believe working women should have babies? Don’t cover maternity benefits.
Don’t believe in immunizations? Don’t cover the costs of vaccinations.
Don’t believe in artificial “assistance” for sex? Don’t cover viagra.
Okay, you get the idea. Passage of this proposal would make health coverage unworkable–which is, of course, the point. It has nothing to do with religious liberty, as I’ve previously explained, and most Senators clearly understand that.
One of the saddest footnotes to this dishonest nonsense is watching Dick Lugar, of all people, jump on this bandwagon, in yet another pathetic effort to pander to the Tea Party zealots trying to oust him.
The day before yesterday, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine announced she wouldn’t run for another term. There were evidently limits to what she was willing to do to placate the irrational know-nothings who have assumed control of the GOP. Lugar would have done better to emulate her, and depart with dignity.