At first blush, the health care plan released today by Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus seems to shift somewhat in a pro-life direction. Whether it will be enough to satisfy pro-life groups — especially the Catholic Bishops — remains to be seen but it is more pro-life than the House bill in the following ways:
The House bill had a public option. This doesn’t. Much of the pro-life anger at the House bill revolved around the possibility that the public option would cover abortion. Baucus eliminates that possibility.
Both bills would subsidize those who couldn’t get private health insurance, but they use different mechanisms, and that may make a difference. In the House bill, the federal government writes a check to a health insurance company. In the Senate bill, the federal government provides a tax benefit to an individual, who then chooses what kind of private insurance to buy. It’s quite similar to the approach proposed by John McCain during the 2008 plan. Money might still bounce from the feds to an abortion provider but it’s much more indirect.
Baucus then used some bookkeeping tools to further limit the possibility of federal money going to abortion, but it’s the same language (albeit in a different context) that was mocked by pro-life groups when included in the House bill.
I was surprised Baucus included the House provision requiring that each insurance exchange include a private plan that covers abortion and one that doesn’t. The author of that House amendment thought it was quintessentially even-handed but pro-life groups disliked it because it meant that some areas that might not have any plans covering abortion would now have to have some. (I dont know whether there are states like that).
I’ll post reaction from the groups as I get it.
UPDATE: The response from the National Right to Life Committee’s Douglas Johnson:
The “America’s Healthy Future Act,” proposed today by Senator Max Baucus (D-Mt.), contains an array of pro-abortion mandates and federal subsidies for elective abortion. National Right to Life strongly opposes the legislation in its current form. We will work in support of amendments to eliminate the abortion mandates and federal abortion subsidies.
The bill contains provisions that would send massive federal subsidies directly to both private insurance plans and government-chartered cooperatives that pay for elective abortion. This would be a drastic break from longstanding federal policy, under which federal funds do not pay for elective abortions or subsidize health plans that cover elective abortions. For example, current law prohibits any of the over 250 private health plans that participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program from paying for elective abortions, because these plans receive federal subsidies. These private plans cover over 8 million federal employees and dependents, including members of Congress.
Thus, under the Baucus bill, like the House Democratic leadership bill (H.R. 3200), federal funds would subsidize coverage of elective abortions. In addition, the Baucus bill requires that a specific charge must be included in the premiums paid by those who enroll in such subsidized plans, of at least “$1 per enrollee, per month,” which amounts to a surcharge specifically for elective abortions.
These bills are not consistent with President Obama’s September 9 claim that “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions,” or with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius’s September 13 affirmation that “no public funds would go to fund abortions.” Funds spent by federal agencies are, by law, federal funds. The claim that under these bills, a federal agency would use “private funds” to subsidize abortions is absurd on its face — a political hoax.
In addition, the Baucus bill provides $6 billion in federal funds for the establishment of health insurance cooperatives, without any limitation on the use of these funds to pay for abortions or to subsidize plans that pay for elective abortions.
In addition, the Baucus bill contains language that would allow the federal government to declare abortion to be a “mandated benefit as part of a minimum benefits package” in any circumstances in which the federal Medicaid program could pay for an abortion. Currently, the federal Medicaid program pays for abortion only in three limited circumstances: to save the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest. But that limitation depends on language, the Hyde Amendment, that expires every September 30, and that must be renewed annually as part of the Health and Human Services appropriations bill. Under the Baucus language, if one house of Congress, and/or the President, blocked renewal of the Hyde Amendment, many private insurance plans could be forced to include abortion on demand as a mandatory benefit in the minimum benefits package. This would be another major departure from the status quo. (Currently, only 13 percent of all abortions are billed directly to private insurance, according to the Guttmacher Institute.)