Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
LANSING – On April 26, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed two bills which, if signed into law, could have far-reaching implications for the health of AIDS patients, LGBTs, and women.
House Bills 4745 and 4746 “would allow commercial health insurance companies, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan to refuse to offer or provide a health care benefit on ethical, moral, or religious grounds as reflected in their articles of incorporation or bylaws or by an adopted mission statement,” according to the legislative summary of the bills.
In other words, a health insurance company could decide, based on its “morals,” not to provide coverage for such medical conditions as AIDS, hormonal or other treatments required by transgender individuals, contraceptives, or other treatments.
The bills would also exempt insurance companies from lawsuits from patients arising from refusal of coverage under the “morals” exemption.
Eleven Democrats joined Republicans in passing the two bills on a 68-38 vote.
“Clearly, to me, some members of the legislature continue to be involved as morality police – I think, in this case, that it’s really dangerous and a slippery slope because now we’re entangling morals with the ability to get insurance coverage. That’s so dangerous,” said Representative Paul Condino (D-District 35).
The bills, which were introduced by Rep. Scott Hummel (R-District 93), are supported by the Michigan Catholic Conference and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood.
According to her spokeswoman, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm feels that the bills move insurance coverage in the state in the wrong direction.
ÒThe Governor has serious concerns about these bills,Ó said Heidi Watson, spokeswoman for Governor Granholm. ÒAt a time when the nation is struggling to expand health care coverage and access to those without insurance, these bills go in the opposite direction and limit coverage.Ó
Other political and community leaders agreed.
“The bills [are] written in such an overbroad manner that, as an attorney, I think it’s clear that gays, lesbians and people with AIDS could be denied treatment solely because they [insurers] find those kinds of conditions immoral, unethical or objectionable. And that’s wrong,” Condino said.
Rachel Crandall, MSW, executive director of TransGender Michigan, shares Condino’s concerns.
“This could really be another big obstacle for transgender people to be able to get health care,” she said.
Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project, was adamant in his opposition to the bills.
“You would think that with all of MichiganÕs pressing problems – the economy, gas prices, roads that need to be fixed, and so many young people leaving our state, that MichiganÕs House of Representatives would have more pressing priorities than passing bills that would allow health insurance providers and health care corporations to deny coverage and refuse to provide services that conflict with their ‘moral’ or ‘religious’ beliefs,” Kaplan wrote in an April 28 email to BTL.
Kaplan explained that groups from gay parents to disabled individuals of any sexual orientation could be threatened if the bills become law.
“The bills [give insurers] the green light to write up a mission statement or amend their bylaws to identify things that morally offend them, so that they can discriminate against patients and insured persons. In other words, an insurer or health care company could put in their bylaws that they donÕt believe in reproductive services for gay people and would not have to cover these services,” he continued. “Aside from the fact that it leaves LGBT persons open to discriminatory treatment, there is no exception in the law for persons who are covered under Michigan Civil Rights laws, such as persons with disabilities and categories such as age, race, religion, and marital status.”
Kaplan noted that similar bills were passed in the House two years ago, but died once reaching the state Senate.
“Hopefully, the same fate will occur with these,” he added.
State Rep. Chris Kolb, (D-53), also opposed the bills.
“They’re in the same line as the other conscientious objector bills – really turning the health care equation upside down,” Kolb said. “Instead of addressing the health care needs of the patient first, they put everybody elseÕs’ moral values first.”
Kolb said everyone should be concerned about these types of bills. “In many ways these are aimed at women’s reproductive freedoms, but they impact everybody’s lives, and not enough is being done and said in opposition to these kinds of legislation.”
The bills will now go to the state Senate. Crandall urged the LGBT community and all fair-minded people to contact their state Senators and urge them to vote against the bills.
“Tell them exactly how it will affect us,” she said. “I ask people to do it soon, because this really will affect our lives.”
Additional reporting by The Associated Press