In dueling Boston Globe op-eds on President Obama’s birth control rule, Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Scott Brown continue to lay out the stark choice Massachusetts voters will face come November. Elizabeth Warren continues to cut straight through to the extremist core of the Blunt amendment:
Washington is so out of touch with what’s happening to families across this country that the Senate is about to vote on an amendment that would allow any insurance company or any employer to claim a vague “moral conviction’’ as an excuse to deny you health care coverage. Here’s the really astonishing news: Senator Scott Brown is not only voting for this amendment, he is fighting to get it passed. [...]
It is shocking that in 2012, Brown and his Republican colleagues would try to pass a law to threaten women’s access to birth control and other health care. Women all across this Commonwealth should have the right to use birth control if they want to. Giving corporate CEOs and insurance companies the power to dictate what health care women can and cannot get is just wrong. Those decisions should be up to women and their doctors.
Warren points out that President Obama’s measure includes a significant exemption for religious institutions, and that the head of the Catholic Health Association is fully satisfied with the accommodation—so under no reasonable standard is this about religious freedom.
Scott Brown, of course, tries to keep us in the dark about what the Blunt amendment actually does, because that’s the only way to sell it. So if you listen to Brown, this is about “religious hospitals and charities.” But the Blunt amendment isn’t about religious hospitals and charities. It’s about all employers. Brown calls that fact “a red herring.”
But perhaps even more appalling than referring to an accurate characterization of what the bill he supports would do as “a red herring” is that Brown tries to wrap himself in the mantle of Ted Kennedy:
The legislation borrows language directly from Senator Kennedy, who in 1995 sponsored a bill that that provided an exemption to health care workers and facilities so they would not be required to provide “an item or service under a certified health plan’’ they found objectionable based on “religious belief or moral conviction.’’
It’s true! The words in quotation marks are included in both bills. But Kennedy’s bill (PDF) said “A health professional or a health facility may not be required to provide an item or service under a certified health plan if the professional or facility objects to doing so on the basis of a religious belief or moral conviction.” The Blunt amendment (PDF) exempts health plans from required “coverage of specific items or services” because:
‘‘providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan; or
‘‘(ii) such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.
Scott Brown is saying that this is in the spirit of Ted Kennedy because it takes language he applied to a narrowly delineated set of people and applies it to anyone with any involvement whatsoever in providing a health care plan, allowing anyone along the way to remove specific items or services from what is provided to the person ultimately covered by the plan, regardless of what that person wants or needs. I’m not going to follow his dubious lead by claiming to channel Kennedy, but as a person who can read, and has read the relevant sections of both bills, I can say that they do two very, very different things—and that you could equally say that a bill to completely repeal the Affordable Care Act “borrows language directly” from the Affordable Care Act because it, too, uses the words “a,” “and,” and “the.”