Dem Sen. on Obama's Free Contraceptives Policy: Insurers Won't Be 'Giving It Away For Free'

By Elizabeth Harrington | February 14, 2012 | 4:34 PM EST

( – Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) would not say whether the Constitution gives the federal government the authority to force private companies to give away products for free, but stressed that in his understanding of President Obama's new regulation dealing with insurers of religious organizations, the insurers “would cover the cost” of contraceptives but not give them away "free of charge."

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Last Friday, Obama reasserted his policy--issued by the Health and Human Services Department--that all health insurance policies must cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that induce abortion, saying, “[I]f a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company--not the hospital, not the charity--will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.”

Obama continued, “Let me repeat: These employers will not have to pay for, or provide, contraceptive services. But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women, and they'll no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries.”

At the Capitol on Tuesday, asked Sen. Blumenthal (D-Conn.) about the contraception regulation and President Obama’s explanation of how it would be implemented. Here is the exchange with Blumenthal: “Can I ask you a quick question about the contraception compromise? Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to force private companies to give away products free of charge?”

Sen. Blumenthal: “Does the—” “Constitution, is it —”

Sen. Blumenthal: “Or the Blunt Amendment?” “I’m talking about the—”

Sen. Blumenthal: “You’re talking about the president’s compromise.” “Yes.”

Sen. Blumenthal: “Does it force companies to give away products free of charge?” “President Obama said that—”

Sen. Blumenthal: “No.” “Insurance companies will have to—”

Sen. Blumenthal: “I’d have to look at it, I’ve never, I don’t believe so.” “Well he said that you—”

Sen. Blumenthal: “The insurance companies have to bear the cost.” “Provide it free of charge.”

Sen. Blumenthal: “Well they have to cover it.” “Right, but he said free of charge. So, is that constitutional?”

Sen. Blumenthal: “I would have to go back and look at what he said.  I thought that he said that the insurance companies would cover the cost, not that anyone would be required to give away the product.” “Okay, well if I am correct and that is the case—”

Sen. Blumenthal: “I’m not going to speculate.” “Would that be constitutional?”

Sen. Blumenthal: “Because if, I don’t think there’s any requirement on the manufacturers to give it away.” “Right, but it’s the insurance companies, the compromise was—”

Sen. Blumenthal: “They have to cover the cost, so no one’s giving it away for free.” “Okay, but the president did say he was—”

Sen. Blumenthal: “Is that right?” “He did say in his press conference that the insurance companies give it away free of charge.”

Sen. Blumenthal: “I’ll go back and look at it.”

As noted, on Feb. 10, Obama said  “the insurance company--not the hospital, not the charity--will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge without co-pays, without hassles.”

President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Also, on the White House Fact Sheet for “Women’s Preventive Services and Religious Institutions,” it states, “Insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.”

The Obama administration argues that contraceptive care is “cost neutral,” according to the Fact Sheet, “since it saves money by keeping women healthy and preventing spending on other health services.”

Blumenthal spoke with after attending a press conference in opposition to an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would overturn the controversial Health and Human Services mandate by allowing employers to opt out of providing coverage they reject for religious reasons.

The HHS regulation, set to go into effect on Aug. 1, has been denounced by various religious groups and at least 158 members of Congress as a violation of religious liberty because it would force people to subsidize a product or service that is contrary to their religious faith.

In particular, for Catholics, forcing them to subsidize contraception and abortion drugs is the equivalent of forcing them to cooperate in a sinful act, contrary to Catholic moral teaching.