July 11, 2012 — Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) on Tuesday introduced a bill (HR 6097) that would prevent the federal government from penalizing employers who refuse to comply with federal contraceptive coverage requirements because of religious or moral reasons, CQ Today reports (Attias, CQ Today, 7/10).
The federal contraceptive coverage rules implement a provision in the health reform law (PL 111-148) that requires health plans to cover preventive services without copayments or deductibles. In February, the Obama administration announced that it would alter the rules so that religiously affiliated employers will not have to offer contraceptive coverage for their employees, but their health insurance companies will be required to provide no-cost coverage directly to women (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/5). Although preventive services requirements go into effect in August, religiously affiliated employers have until Aug. 1, 2013, to comply with the contraceptive coverage provision.
The accommodations have not quelled conservatives' desire to enact an even broader exemption, CQ Today notes. In March, the Senate tabled an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would have allowed employers and health plans with religious or moral objections to deny any coverage required under the health reform law (CQ Today, 7/10).
Details of Legislation
Sensenbrenner's bill -- called the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act -- would exempt employers who choose not to cover certain health care benefits "by reason of adherence to a religious belief or moral conviction" from taxes or other financial penalties imposed by the federal government (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 7/10).
Citing a Congressional Research Service Report released in February, Sensenbrenner said that religiously affiliated institutions employing 50 people or more could be taxed $1.8 million annually -- or $100 per individual per day -- for not complying with the contraceptive coverage rules (CQ Today, 7/10).
"If these taxes are levied and they are enforced, there will be no religious-affiliated institutions left in this country," Sensenbrenner said at a press conference on Tuesday. "I don't think they should be taxed out of business, and neither do my co-sponsors," he added ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 7/10).
Michael Steel, a spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said that Boehner's office was aware of the measure and believes it is "clearly an important issue." Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) -- who in March sponsored a House bill (HR 1179) aimed at undermining the contraceptive coverage rules -- also expressed support of the Sensenbrenner bill at Tuesday's press conference (CQ Today, 7/10).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership