When Republican senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts makes the case for a bill that would restore the conscience protections that existed prior to Obamacare, he frequently notes that his Democratic predecessor Ted Kennedy shared the same position. But Kennedy's son Patrick, former congressman from Rhode Island, says that Brown is misrepresenting his deceased father's views and that his father only supported conscience protections based on religious objections, not "moral objections."
"My father believed that health care providers should be allowed a conscience exemption from performing any service that conflicted with their faith," Kennedy wrote in a letter to Brown over the weekend. "That is completely different than the broad language of the Blunt Amendment that will allow any employer, or even an insurance company, to use vague moral objections as an excuse to refuse to provide health care coverage. My father never would have supported this extreme legislation."
But as MassLive.com reports, "a 1997 bill sponsored in the Senate by the elder Kennedy and adjoining legislation in the House which was co-sponsored by Patrick Kennedy seems to have supported an exemption clause allowing businesses to limit health care coverage on the basis of religious or moral convictions."
Nobody knows if Ted Kennedy would have flip-flopped--like his son Patrick--on conscience protections. An anonymous Kennedy aide and two professors now say the 1997 bill isn't a good parallel to the current legislation because the 1997 bill didn't deal with mandating insurance coverage. But that entirely misses the point. The principle behind the conscience bills backed by Kennedy in the past is the exact same principle in the bill Brown is now supporting.
A 1995 bill authored by Ted Kennedy stated that a "health professional or a health facility may not be required to provide an item or service under a certified plan if the professional or facility objects on the basis of a religious belief or moral conviction."
So Ted Kennedy believed that a Catholic hospital didn't have to perform procedures to which it objected on moral or religious grounds, but now Ted Kennedy's son insists that his father would have required that same Catholic hospital to pay for insurance coverage of morally objectionable services--and pay directly in the case of self-insured Catholic hospitals. There's no two ways about it: Those positions are contradictory in principle.
And despite Democratic claims to the contrary, the conscience bill now under consideration would not allow insurers to take advantage of it as a money-saving loophole. The bill explicitly allows the federal government to require the "aggregate actuarial value" of insurance plans that exclude morally objectionable services to be "at least equivalent to that of plans at the same level of coverage that do not exclude such items or services."