Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) has been jousting with not only his Democratic opponent, former White House financial reform adviser Elizabeth Warren, but also with former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), over Brown invoking the name of Ted Kennedy in connection with Brown’s opposition to the Obama administration’s contraception insurance mandates.
But in addition the opposition raised on principle to Brown invoking the elder Kennedy’s name, there’s another matter: He almost certainly gets his record on the issue wrong.
Brown is a sponsor of the bill put forward by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), to excuse employers and insurance companies from mandates with which they differ on an issue of moral conviction. Warren has in turn charged that the Republican bill would provide a loophole for an employer to deny many different kinds of health care coverage. Brown has denied the accusation, and said that the proposal is needed in order to protect religious freedom.
And along the way, Brown has invoked the name of Ted Kennedy. “Like Ted Kennedy before me, I support a conscience exemption in health care for Catholics and other people of faith,” he has said in one radio ad.
However, Kennedy did support a contraceptive insurance mandate — as evidenced by his support of a key piece of legislation that had floated through Congress for many years, the Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act (EPICC). Under the proposal, insurers would be required to cover contraception, with only the same deductibles and limitations as they would for any other prescription drug coverage. And along the way, there was certainly a fair amount of debate with the Catholic hierarchy.
In a Senate hearing in 2001, when Kennedy chaired the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, he said, “Contraceptive insurance coverage is essential for women’s health,” also adding: “This is something all of us are very hopeful we can move right to the Senate floor and get action on this year.”
In July 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a letter to senators, staunchly opposing the bill.
Pregnancy is not a disease, and interventions to stop the healthy functioning of healthy women’s reproductive systems are not basic health care. We support universal health care coverage, but we must oppose efforts to federalize the forced provision of non-therapeutic drugs, devices and services, especially considering the inequity in the delivery of health care to the poor.
Additionally, as Catholics we are uniquely affected by this legislation. The Catholic Church serves as an employer in dioceses, schools, charities, and hospitals across the country and is committed to ensuring just wages, which include providing comprehensive health care benefits to its employees. EPICC would force Church entities to end all prescription drug benefits if they are to avoid violating their fundamental moral and religious teaching on the dignity of human procreation. Moreover, Catholics who serve as employers and employees outside of Church institutions will be similarly affected. Indeed, the bill’s preemption clause seems designed to ensure that this bill will override any state laws that respect the right of conscientious objection, by exempting from federal preemption only state laws that are even broader in their “protections” for access to contraceptives and abortifacients.
The newer versions did not have any specific language identifying exemptions for religious, conscience or moral convictions. The closest thing to such a modification was more general wording, saying that bill’s language would not be construed “as modifying, diminishing, or limiting the rights or protections of an individual under any other Federal law.”
Brown’s use of Kennedy’s name has been based on a few things: A letter that Kennedy wrote to Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, in the months before his death from brain cancer. Among many other points in the letter, Kennedy discussed President Obama’s push for national health care reform, and stated his own advocacy for “a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field” in the context of his staunch support for the overall bill.
There was also Kennedy’s support in 1995 for a law to prevent medical personnel from being forced to take part in procedures with which they disagree (as in, abortion), and a 1997 bill that dealt with conscience restrictions by some insurance companies.
As the Springfield Republican reports, former Kennedy aides have strongly disputed the idea that his past support of legislation in 1995, and the 1997 bill dealing with insurance plans — through some of the language appears similar — meant that he would support the approach of the Blunt bill.
Mainly, one anonymous former aide said the 1997 bill dealt with making sure information was available to patients, within the status quo of the absence of coverage mandates. That is, the bill accepted that some health insurers would deny coverage on some grounds, but required full transparency with enrollees.
“For example, it was there to make sure that a doctor wasn’t prohibited from telling a woman that a procedure may be in her best medical interests even if it wasn’t covered by her insurance because of a conscience exemption,” the staffer said. “The whole bill was never about endorsing any ideal other than making sure people were treated fairly by their insurance providers.”
One former Kennedy aide, Nick Littlefield, has definitively told the Boston Globe: “He [Kennedy] also felt that an individual Catholic provider should not have to provide an individual service if he had a moral objection. [But] he was never for allowing insurers or employers not to cover health services based on religious objections.”
Brown’s campaign and Senate offices did not return TPM’s requests for comment.