GOP Senate bill to protect business, nonprofit conscience

Senate Republicans introduced new legislation to bar the federal government from requiring business to provide insurance for drugs and services that violate their moral beliefs. Sponsored by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla), the bill, S. 1919, titled the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, would allow private businesses and religious nonprofits to negotiate health plans that do not cover abortion or forms of birth control they object to without risking heavy fines under the “contraception mandate” established under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148). The bill continues the renewed debates over religious liberty, abortion, and the legal fight over the availability of birth control benefits under health insurance plans post-ACA.

According to the GOP sponsors, the bill would prohibit any action by the federal government and any state or local government receiving federal financial assistance to subject a health professional, a hospital, a provider-sponsored organization, a health maintenance organization, an accountable care organization, a health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan to discriminate on the basis that the entity refuses to participate in abortion-related activities. Democrats charge that the bill is one of many efforts to create obstacles for women’s health services.

Under current HHS policy, closely held corporations and religious nonprofits can notify either their insurers or the federal government of objections to insuring certain contraceptives, and the insurers or plan administrators would then step in and make sure employees can receive contraception coverage without the religious entity having to pay for it (see New government guidance clarifies and expands scope of ACA contraception coverage mandate, Health Reform WK-EDGE, May 27, 2015).