Parties clash over scope of Blunt amendment

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But those figures don’t appear to include the controversial birth-control mandate. That requirement wasn’t in effect last year, meaning it wasn’t one of the services women could access because of the healthcare law. The 20 million women who used preventive benefits last year received services like cancer screenings, pap smears and vaccinations.

Although employers would be able to opt out of those mandates under Blunt’s amendment, they’re not the services that have fueled controversy over the benefit requirements.

A Senate GOP aide said the Blunt amendment would hardly be the major step backward that Democrats allege, and that it would simply reinforce conscience protections that have become common in healthcare. The aide said it would leave in place the same basic structure that existed before the healthcare law.

The reform law changed the way benefits are selected, the aide said, and the Blunt amendment would let some employers avoid those changes but wouldn’t go any further.

Contraception is part of a large package of preventive services that most employers’ plans will have to cover without charging a co-pay. Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the birth-control requirement. Women who work for other religious-affiliated institutions, such as Catholic schools and hospitals, will be able to get birth control from their insurance company without a co-pay, but their employers won’t have to offer the coverage directly.

Blunt and other critics say that’s not enough protection for religious-affiliated employers. They say employers should not have to cover birth control if they find it immoral, even if they run a business that’s not affiliated with any religious organization.