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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Repealing mandate for contraception coverage doesn’t make it out of Senate

CONCORD – The state Senate dismissed a social agenda item of House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, on Wednesday, shipping to political oblivion a bill that would have eliminated a mandate that employers include birth control in their health insurance plans.

O’Brien received national headlines when he sought to make New Hampshire a beachhead for the protracted fight on Capitol Hill over President Barack Obama’s rule that mandates women’s contraception be covered without a copay.

O’Brien said he was stunned to learn a Republican-led Legislature had adopted the mandate in 1999 under Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

Over a span of a few weeks, O’Brien received the backing of Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Libasci and the full House for his bill, HB 1546, which allowed any employer to refuse to provide that coverage if he or she had a religious or moral objection to it.

But with little debate, the Republican-dominated Senate refused to follow suit and instead voted 19-4 to put the measure into interim study.

Only four Republican senators, all in their first terms, wanted to keep the bill alive in some form: Raymond White, of Bedford; Jim Forsythe, of Strafford; Andy Sanborn, of Henniker; and Fenton Groen, of Rochester.

Veteran observers accurately describe such a maneuver as a polite form of death for the bill, since in the second year of the legislative term, it means the idea has to start all over before a newly elected Legislature and a new governor.

Sen. Jack Barnes, R-Raymond, said the religious or moral objection was too all-encompassing and the issue needed to be more fully examined by the next Legislature.

New Hampshire is one of 28 states that has such a mandate. Sen. Amanda Merrill, D-Durham, said if repealed, it could cost women as much as $45-$80 a month in prescription costs.

“The vast majority of women at some point in their lives use oral contraceptives,” Merrill said. “They are often used in addition to birth control for other gynecological or hormonal disorders. This is an important prescription for many, many women.”

New Hampshire law isn’t as sweeping as the federal rule Obama put in place, as Granite State employers may require women to make a copayment to obtain birth control pills or other devices.

House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, was a prime author of the contraception mandate and formerly chaired the political action committee for a leading New Hampshire abortion rights group.

The law was needed because some insurers didn’t offer coverage and others only covered certain devices and not others, Norelli said.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter.