Republicans have gone to war against President Obama’s regulation requiring employers and insurers to provide contraception coverage, portraying the measure as a “government takeover” of health care and pledging to repeal the rule in Congress. The measure, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, says that companies offering coverage must also provide birth control insurance (but exempts houses of worship and nonprofits primarily employing and serving those of the same faith).
The Obama measure closely resembles state laws providing equity in insurance coverage for contraception in six states and actually offers far more conscience protections than previous Congressional efforts to expand women’s access to birth control. For instance, a 2001 bill co-sponsored by Republicans Sens. Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME), Lincoln Chafee (RI), Gordon Smith (OR), John Warner (VA), Arlen Specter (PA) — S. 104 — sought to establish parity for contraceptive prescriptions within the context of coverage already guaranteed by insurance plans, but offered no opt-out clause for religious groups who opposed contraception:
SEC. 714. STANDARDS RELATING TO BENEFITS FOR CONTRACEPTIVES.
`(a) REQUIREMENTS FOR COVERAGE- A group health plan, and a health insurance issuer providing health insurance coverage in connection with a group health plan, may not–
`(1) exclude or restrict benefits for prescription contraceptive drugs or devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration, or generic equivalents approved as substitutable by the Food and Drug Administration, if such plan provides benefits for other outpatient prescription drugs or devices; or
`(2) exclude or restrict benefits for outpatient contraceptive services if such plan provides benefits.
“Women shouldn’t be held hostage by virtue of where they live,” Snowe told a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing in September of 2001. “It simply is not fair.” “All we’re saying in this legislation is that if health insurance plans provide coverage for prescription drugs that that coverage has to extend to FDA-approved prescription contraceptives. It’s that simple.”
At the time, religious groups also raised concerns about the measure and Snowe promised to add a “conscience clause” that is similar to the exemption included in Maine’s law. Incidentally, that language is very similar to the conscience protections included in Obama’s regulation.