Lansing — The Senate Health Policy Committee approved a "medical conscience" bill allowing health care workers to opt out of treatments that violate their personal beliefs and employers to bypass the Obama administration's contraception mandate.
A long list of health-related groups opposes the bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. John Moolenaar of Midland, which the committee Thursday morning moved to the full Senate for consideration. Its backers include the Michigan Catholic Conference, which considers this type of legislation among its legislative priorities.
Moolenaar said opponents make misleading assertions about his bill, which is "intended to protect religious freedom while making sure patients still receive good care."
It doesn't allow emergency treatment to be interrupted or "patient-based" denial of care, Moolenaar said.
Rather, he said, employees of health care organizations would be given a way for arranging in advance with their employers to avoid being given assignments in which they'd have to provide care or services they find objectionable.
Examples that have been mentioned are prescribing medical marijuana, dispensing the "morning-after" pill to prevent pregnancy or complying with a family's decision to disconnect equipment that's keeping alive a terminally ill patient.
While the bill has been discussed mostly in those terms, the Catholic Conference also hopes to carve out a state exemption from a federal Health and Human Services requirement that most employers include contraception in the basic coverage of their health insurance plans.
The coverage must be provided by insurers at no extra cost to employers. That change was added to the mandate by the Obama administration amid a firestorm of opposition from Catholics and other religious groups about being directed to pay for medical care that violates their beliefs.
The White House further broadened its exemption that initially would have allowed churches to avoid providing the coverage for their employees, but that hasn't assuaged organizations such as the Michigan Catholic Conference, which are contesting the rule in court. Communications Director Dave Maluchnik said the organization's court challenge will continue.
"We believe this legislation will strike a balance between employee and patient needs," he said Thursday.
Groups opposed to the conscience proposal include Planned Parenthood, Michigan Health & Hospital Association, Michigan Psychiatric Association, Michigan Disability Rights Assocation and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Planned Parenthood said the legislation would ignore the beliefs of patients and infringe on the doctor-patient relationship. It claims the bill would allow employers, health care facilities and insurance companies to deny access to abortion as well as any health care service including birth control, HIV/AIDS treatment and vaccines.
The GOP-led committee rejected three amendments from Democratic member Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, including one that would disallow a "matter of conscience" claim at a medical facility where there was no alternative care provider within 25 miles.
Warren argued the bill otherwise could make some types of care unavailable in rural areas where limited health care options exist.