Menendez's Remarks on Blunt Amendment As Prepared For Delivery

Menendez's Remarks on Blunt Amendment As Prepared For Delivery

Amendment by Senator Roy Blunt

Remarks by Senator Robert Menendez

Mr. President, this amendment offered by my colleague from Missouri, Senator Blunt, simply goes too far.

The President has struck the right balance in his decision to address religious institutions' concerns when it comes to providing women's health services but this amendment gives all employers shockingly broad discretion to make moral decisions for their employees.

Fundamental decisions about some of the most personal issues an individual faces: the health care needs of themselves and their families; a woman's decision about contraception and family planning, decisions about whether their child gets a blood transfusion for a deadly disease; decisions regarding the use of prescription drugs; decisions on who to treat and how to treat them, based entirely on an employer's moral views, not an individual's moral beliefs.

The bottom line is: health services should not be provided at the moral discretion of an employer, but on the medical determination of the employee and their doctor.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 1.7 million New Jerseyans - almost 500,000 children, over 600,000 women, and 600,000 men benefit from expanded preventive service coverage from their private insurers - screenings for colon cancer, mammograms for women, well-child visits, flu shots and a host of other routine procedures.

All of these could be taken away under this proposed amendment should their employer determine it's against their personal beliefs or convictions.

Every day millions of Americans who are worried about a health condition go to see their doctor. Millions of women go for necessary screening and access to legal medical procedures. Their doctor evaluates their condition and recommends a course of treatment - that can range from simple preventive measures, such as exercise and diet, to a prescription drug regimen to major surgery.

The last thing that a woman or her doctor should have to concern themselves with is whether their employer will deem their medical treatment to be immoral based on their employer's personal beliefs, regardless of their own beliefs or needs. The last thing they need is to be denied coverage by an employer who would be allowed, under this amendment, to effectively practice a form of morality-medicine that has nothing to do with accepted medical science, or the affected individual's personal views.

Under the language of this amendment - that is exactly what would happen.

It would allow employers simply to deny coverage based on a particular religious doctrine or moral belief regardless of the science, medical evidence, or the legality of the prescribed treatment.

Put simply, we expect our health insurers, no matter where we work, no matter what our faith, to cover basic benefits and necessary medical procedures recommended by our doctor.

Then we, as individuals, should have the right to decide which of those benefits we use, based on our personal beliefs, our medical diagnosis, and our treatment options. Just because one person makes one decision or holds one belief, doesn't mean someone else will do the same. That's what freedom is all about.

The arbitrary denial of coverage based on anything other than good science and rational medical therapy was the driving force behind the need for health care reforms that ensured that if you paid your premiums you would be covered, freeing families from having to choose between putting food on the table, paying their mortgage - or using their savings to pay for medical treatment because an insurer, based on their own rules, refused to cover them.

With this amendment, we are turning back the clock and allowing the arbitrary denial of coverage based on someone else's sense of morality. That, Mr. President, is not what America is about. It is not what freedom of religion is about.

In a system predicated on employer-based health insurance coverage, in which workers often forego other benefits--such as wage increases--in exchange for coverage, it is vitally important to ensure families can count on their coverage to provide the treatments and benefits they need.

And we can continue doing so - as we have for so many years - while respecting people's personal moral beliefs.

Supporters of this amendment claim that it's about protecting religious freedom. They are wrong.

Supporters of this amendment claim that recent regulations guaranteeing a woman's access to preventive health care services is a governmental overreach. They are wrong.

What supporters of this amendment are actually trying to accomplish has nothing to do with either. It has to do with trying to dismantle health care reform to score cheap political points, and throw America's mothers, daughters and sisters under the bus in the process.

This amendment is not about religious freedom. The President rightly addressed that concern with the recent compromise he announced for religious institutions. No, it's about allowing morality-based medicine to deny coverage for neonatal care for unwed women, to deny access to lifesaving vaccines for children, to refuse to cover medications for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, or even deny coverage for diabetes or hypertension because of an ethical objection to an "unhealthy" lifestyle.

The scope of this amendment is unlimited.

If it were truly about religious freedom or about contraceptives, then why have so many nationally respected organizations that have nothing to do with birth control, reproductive issues or religion, such as the Easter Seals, March of Dimes and the Spina Bifida Association - come out in such strong opposition?

The answer is simple: because the amendment isn't about birth control, and it isn't about religious freedom. The amendment is about fundamentally undermining our system of patient protections - especially for women -- and leads us backward to a time when insurance companies and employers could play life-or-death games with insurance coverage.

Supporters of this amendment will stop at nothing to undermine the progress made thanks to health care reform. Progress that says insurance companies can no longer deny coverage because of a preexisting condition; can no longer impose arbitrary caps on the coverage you can receive; or cancel a policy because of a diagnosis they deem too expensive to cover.

Mr. President, in my view it is shameful that they are using women's health and access to vital preventive services as the scapegoat for their larger anti-health agenda.

Any attempt to say otherwise is simply wrong.

Mr. President, by allowing any employer to deny any service for any reason, we are doing a disservice to the people we represent. We would be turning the Constitution on its head to favor morality-based medical decisions over good science and over the relationship between a patient and their doctor.

Mr. President, this is an overreaching amendment with radical consequences.

I urge my colleagues to oppose it, and preserve the progress we've made on trying to level the playing field for workers and patients in this country.