IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
August 2, 2011
Mr. Blunt (for himself, Mr. Rubio, and Ms. Ayotte) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
To amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to protect rights of conscience with regard to requirements for coverage of specific items and services.
This Act may be cited as the
Respect for Rights of Conscience Act
Findings and purposes
Congress finds the following:
As Thomas Jefferson declared to New London
Methodists in 1809,
[n]o provision in our Constitution ought to be
dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the
enterprises of the civil authority.
Jefferson’s statement expresses a conviction on respect for conscience that is deeply embedded in the history and traditions of our Nation and codified in numerous State and Federal laws, including laws on health care.
Until enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111–148, in this section referred to as PPACA), the Federal Government has not sought to impose specific coverage or care requirements that infringe on the rights of conscience of insurers, purchasers of insurance, plan sponsors, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders, such as individual or institutional health care providers.
PPACA creates a new nationwide requirement for health plans to cover essential health benefits and preventive services (including a distinct set of preventive services for women), delegating to the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to provide a list of detailed services under each category, and imposes other new requirements with respect to the provision of health care services.
While PPACA provides an exemption for some religious groups that object to participation in Government health programs generally, it does not allow purchasers, plan sponsors, and other stakeholders with religious or moral objections to specific items or services to decline providing or obtaining coverage of such items or services, or allow health care providers with such objections to decline to provide them.
By creating new barriers to health insurance and causing the loss of existing insurance arrangements, these inflexible mandates in PPACA jeopardize the ability of individuals to exercise their rights of conscience and their ability to freely participate in the health insurance and health care marketplace.
The purposes of this Act are—
to ensure that health care stakeholders retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions, without fear of being penalized or discriminated against under PPACA; and
to ensure that no requirement in PPACA creates new pressures to exclude those exercising such conscientious objection from health plans or other programs under PPACA.
Respect for rights of conscience
Section 1302(b) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111–148; 42 U.S.C. 18022(b)) is amended by adding at the end the following new paragraph:
Respecting rights of conscience with regard to specific items or services
For health plans
A health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits package described in subsection (a) (or preventive health services described in section 2713 of the Public Health Service Act), to fail to be a qualified health plan, or to fail to fulfill any other requirement under this title on the basis that it declines to provide 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
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.
For health care providers
Nothing in this title (or any amendment made by this title) shall be construed to require an individual or institutional health care provider, or authorize a health plan to require a provider, to provide, participate in, or refer for a specific item or service contrary to the provider’s religious beliefs or moral convictions. Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, a health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide timely or other access to items or services under this title (or any amendment made by this title) or to fulfill any other requirement under this title because it has respected the rights of conscience of such a provider pursuant to this paragraph.
Nondiscrimination in exercising rights of conscience
No Exchange or other official or entity acting in a governmental capacity in the course of implementing this title (or any amendment made by this title) shall discriminate against a health plan, plan sponsor, health care provider, or other person because of such plan’s, sponsor’s, provider’s, or person’s unwillingness to provide coverage of, participate in, or refer for, specific items or services pursuant to this paragraph.
Nothing in subparagraph (A) or (B) shall be construed to permit a health plan or provider to discriminate in a manner inconsistent with subparagraphs (B) and (D) of paragraph (4).
Private rights of action
The various protections of conscience in this paragraph constitute the protection of individual rights and create a private cause of action for those persons or entities protected. Any person or entity may assert a violation of this paragraph as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding.
The Federal courts shall have jurisdiction to prevent and redress actual or threatened violations of this paragraph by granting all forms of legal or equitable relief, including, but not limited to, injunctive relief, declaratory relief, damages, costs, and attorney fees.
An action under this paragraph may be instituted by the Attorney General of the United States, or by any person or entity having standing to complain of a threatened or actual violation of this paragraph, including, but not limited to, any actual or prospective plan sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering a plan, any actual or prospective purchaser or beneficiary of a plan, and any individual or institutional health care provider.
Pending final determination of any action under this paragraph, the court may at any time enter such restraining order or prohibitions, or take such other actions, as it deems necessary.
The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services is designated to receive complaints of discrimination based on this paragraph and coordinate the investigation of such complaints.
Nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit the Secretary from issuing regulations or other guidance to ensure that health plans excluding specific items or services under this paragraph shall have an aggregate actuarial value at least equivalent to that of plans at the same level of coverage that do not exclude such items or services.
The amendment made by subsection (a) shall be effective as if included in the enactment of Public Law 111–148.