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Tuesday February 14, 2012 | 03:19 PM

Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have said that President Obama’s revised birth-control coverage rule was a step in the right direction, and appeared to have been won over by the change announced by the White House last week.

But in interviews today, Collins and Snowe said they aren’t ready to completely endorse the announced change. The White House said Friday that instead of requiring employers, including religious hospitals and universities, to pay for contraception benefits, it would alter the rule to have such coverage provided by health insurers.

Snowe said today that the White House “certainly has made some critical adjustments, but we haven’t seen the final rule so I think it is important to see the final rule to make sure that we understand exactly what it will do. I see there are still some concerns within the Catholic Church, and hopefully the president can continue to work through those issues.”

Snowe was referring to the face that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is among those who continue to criticize the administration’s revised rule, and push for legislation allowing for a wider exemption.

“It shouldn‘t be mutually exclusive, maintaining women’s health and religious liberty,” Snowe said. “We haven’t seen the final language. I would like to look at it. I know there are some differences within the church so if the president can further address those that is always helpful.”

Snowe said she has remained a sponsor of a bill introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., giving any employer the ability cite religious objections as a basis for not providing contraception coverage. But Snowe said she is not a sponsor of a bill by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., that allows employers and insurers to exclude coverage for any health service that contravenes their religious beliefs.

Snowe called the Blunt bill “too broad.”

Collins, meanwhile, said she has become concerned that the Obama administration has not detailed how its revised rule would apply to Catholic institutions that are self-insured and act as both employer and insurer.

“I thought that the president’s announcement on Friday was a step in the right direction, but as I indicated at that time, I needed more information about the details,” Collins said today. “A very important issue is how the administration would treat self-insured Catholic institutions. And I haven’t been able to get an answer from the administration on that issue. They have ducked the issue and said that it remains to be seen, that they are working on it and that it could take as long as a year to come up with an answer. That’s very disappointing and undermines what I thought was a sincere attempt initially to deal with the issues that have been raised not only by the Catholic Church but by other faith-based organizations.”

Collins said she too continues to be a sponsor of the Rubio bill. She is not a sponsor of the Blunt bill, saying she needs to study the Blunt measure’s “full implications.”

In 2001, Snowe authored and Collins co-sponsored a bill that prohibited insurance plans from excluding contraceptives from their prescription benefits.

There was no religious exemption in that bill as written, but Snowe indicated at the time that she would address that issue of adding a “conscience clause.” Collins said today that she too favored a conscience clause and talked to Snowe about adding that to the bill at the time. The bill didn’t advance that year after a Sept. 10, 2001 hearing. The same bill also was introduced by Snowe in 2005 and 2008, but did not receive a hearing, Snowe’s office said.

 

 

 

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@mainetoday.com

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