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February 21. 2012 5:31PM

Proposed law change exempts employers from mandate for contraceptives

CONCORD — House leadership Tuesday presented an amendment to exempt employers from a state mandate to provide birth control services as part of their health plan for employees if they object on religious grounds.

The state law mandating contraceptive coverage is similar to a recently announced federal mandate that health insurance plans cover birth control. The state law was passed in 1999 with bipartisan support and went into effect Jan. 1, 2000.

Religious organizations have not objected to the law, until last week.

The law mandates any company that provides group health insurance to cover all prescription contraceptive drugs and devices.

Currently, there is no religious exemption for churches due to their religious beliefs.

The issue surfaced recently after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued rules requiring health insurance policies to cover birth control under the federal health reform act.

The federal mandate prompted New Hampshire House leadership to introduce House Resolution 29 calling for the department to rescind the rule.

The House State Federal and Veterans Relations Committee voted 13-5 Tuesday to recommend the resolution and the House is schedule to vote on it today.

Also the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday voted 12-5 to back a bill to allow health care providers to refuse to provide services on religious, ethical, moral or philosophical grounds.

The bill would apply, but not be limited to such procedures as abortion, artificial birth control, artificial insemination, assisted reproduction, human cloning, euthanasia, human embryonic stem-cell research, fetal experimentation, physician-assisted suicide, and sterilization.

Under House Bill 1653, the provider could not be fired or disciplined for refusing to provide the service. And the provider could not be held civilly or criminally liable for refusing to provide the service.

The House will not vote on that bill until sometime in March.

Jennifer Frizzell, Senior Policy Advisor for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said “This legislature has launched a full-scale attack on birth control — last month voting to defund Planned Parenthood and women's health providers that serve low-income women and women on Medicaid and today focusing their efforts to eliminate contraceptive coverage for women who have private health insurance.”

Last week during a press conference touting HR 29, which does not have the weight of law, House Speaker William O'Brien said leadership would craft language to repeal the state's law requiring insurance companies to pay for birth control.

“We weren't aware this law was on the books,” O'Brien said at the time.

The repeal language was introduced Tuesday as an amendment to HB 1546 and is tentatively scheduled for a public hearing Thursday before the House Constitutional Review and Statutory Recodification Committee.

According to amendment sponsor, Rep. Andrew Manuse, R-Derry, “Our focus is on relieving the mandate for employers for conscientious objections,” noting particularly catholic organizations or colleges.

The law would include the exemption for religious employers who purchase health insurance for their employees, he said.

The sponsors were scrambling Tuesday afternoon to redraft the amendment so it reflected their intent.

The amendment presented to the committee Tuesday morning, focused on institutions, physicians and the employees and agents that would be exempt from the mandate, but sponsors said that was incorrect and the focus should be on religious employers.

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