This legislative session some legislators have stopped listening to their constituents and experts as they adopt new laws and regulations. These legislators are not hearing and are not willing to listen to reasonable arguments to amend or reject bad bills. The debate and passage in the House of HB 303, the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act, exemplifies this legislative deafness.
HB 303 expands government regulations controlling all health care providers and the care they provide Montana patients. This bill would allow medical providers, health care facilities and insurers to deny patients medical services based any “ethical, moral, or religious beliefs or principles.”
When this bill came before the House Judiciary Committee for public testimony, 22 opponents and 10 proponents testified. The opponents included many Montana medical associations and groups, including the Montana Hospital Association, Montana Primary Care Association, Montana Nurses Association, and the Montana Medical Association, Planned Parenthood of Montana, and Blue Mountain Clinic. These professional organizations offered expert information about how HB 303 would impact the care they provide patients and the problems it would create for the health care industry. A few of their arguments against it included:
- The bill isn’t needed. It is unnecessary because there are existing protocols that health care providers have for filing conscience-based objections, such as hospital ethics committees.
- It would put patients’ care at risk and undermine the medical profession’s obligation to act in the best interest of patients.
- The bill would be both a violation of federal law and a violation of patients’ interests.
- The bill does not clearly spell out the types of ethical, moral, religious beliefs, or principles that could lead to patients being denied care.
- The bill would condone patient discrimination. Health care workers could refuse to care for a patient “on principle” if, for example, the patient had HIV, or were a member of a different religious faith or minority group, or if they had a “moral objection.”
- There are no patient protections in the bill. Medical employees have a “get-out-of-jail-free” card to discriminate against patients and are not required to refer patients to other medical providers.
- Patients could be denied medications, such as marijuana for a Veteran’s PTSD or opioids if the provider felt it was not ethical or within their principles to prescribe them.
- The new regulations created with this bill would add paperwork and create liability issues for hospitals.
- The bill was not written by Montanans to address Montanan problems, but was “imported” from South Carolina by conservative religious groups including the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Montana Family Foundation, and the Montana Catholic Conference
The League of Women Voters advocates equitable access to basic health care and this bill concerns us because it could threaten rural access to care and allow discrimination against patients. We are also concerned because legislators are not heeding common-sense public testimony.
Medical experts and citizens who could be impacted by this bill raised many reasoned objections, but the majority party Legislative committee members did not listen and refused to hear common sense arguments. The bill advanced out of the Judiciary Committee and passed the House after only 20 minutes of debate. Now the bill has been transmitted to the Senate for approval.
Why are legislators deaf to valid concerns from experts and citizens? They appear to be locked into an ideology that embodies a radically conservative religious world view. The majority party legislators have a super-majority of votes in both houses and can adopt any bill they want. The medical bills they are advancing put implementing an ideological imperative to prevent legal abortions and promote intolerance of trans-gender people over the medical needs of all.
The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing non-partisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16. For more information about the Missoula League, go to our website: lwvmissoula.org
Nancy Leifer is President of the League of Women Voters of Montana and Nancy Maxson is Past- President of the League of Women Voters of Missoula
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