GOP Sen. Roy Blunt wants your employer to decide your health coverage (Phote: Wikipedia)

Happy to allow a debate on birth control in 2012, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will give Republicans a vote on an amendment to the surface transportation bill authored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), known as the “Freedom of Conscience” amendment.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), would let employers opt out of any coverage mandates they find immoral.

Reid blocked a vote on the same amendment last week, before the White House had announced new “accommodations” for religious organizations. Senate Republicans pressed ahead after Obama’s announcement, despite pundits’ warnings that the party could appear to be attacking contraception rather than defending religious liberty.

Blunt insisted Tuesday that his proposal would simply affirm the constitutional right to freedom of religion […]

“It would allow anyone to deny any healthcare service for any reason,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said at a press conference. “If I believe that prayer should cure all disease, that’s my belief, and I’m an employer, I can deny coverage for any life-saving intervention.”

Boxer correctly identifies the possibilities with the Blunt amendment. It’s a license for an employer to determine the level of health care coverage for their employees. Employers who don’t believe in vaccinations could ensure those don’t get covered, to use just one example. Employers who just don’t want to pay for health insurance for their employees and don’t want to incur the penalties set up by the Affordable Care Act could convert to a Christian Scientist and invoke a moral objection to health care generally.

In a sense, the only reason this is an issue at all is because of the weird, inefficient employer-based health insurance system in this country, which the Affordable Care Act did not attempt to undermine or fix in any way. In a single-payer system, only the government would be the guarantor for health insurance, and the employer would have no role in the matter. But because we allow – indeed, encourage with the tax code – employers to provide health insurance, suddenly their personal beliefs get to enter the picture. Obviously turning this over to government wouldn’t stop the bleating – witness the Stupak debate over abortion coverage in the insurance exchanges – but it is a different dynamic that you see in practically every other country.

The Administration has called the Blunt amendment “dangerous”, and I imagine they would threaten to veto it. And neither chamber of Congress would have the 2/3 vote needed to override. So Reid obviously saw this as a free opportunity to put Republicans on the wrong side of public opinion in the birth control debate, not to mention to let every woman in America know that they now can get free birth control through their insurance, thanks to the health care law.

David Dayen

David Dayen