Congressmember Lois Capps termed the compromise abortion language included in the Senate version of the health-care reform package as “far from perfect,” but said it was considerably better than language in the House version that Capps said would effectively bar 85 percent of women from obtaining insurance coverage for abortions. Capps had introduced compromise language into the House bill to maintain the status quo on abortion coverage, but that effort was successfully defeated by pro-life members of Congress. Instead, the House approved a bill in which no abortion coverage could be provided by any insurance carrier to any women receiving any federal subsidy for their insurance. In requiring that all Americans obtain health insurance, the federal government is now proposing to subsidize millions of citizens who could not otherwise afford it. Abortion appeared to be the sticking point in Senate negotiations this week as well, as pro-life Democrat Ben Nelson, from Nebraska, insisted on similar language.
Because Nelson held the last vote essential for Democrats to win approval for the reform package, he enjoyed considerable leverage. Ultimately, Nelson agreed to language that pro-choice advocates found somewhat less objectionable. The Senate bill will require women receiving federal subsidies to submit two separate checks for their insurance should abortion services be included: One check would cover the cost of insurance and the other would cover abortion services. To sweeten the deal for Nelson, the Senate bill includes language giving Nebraska Medicare a subsidy-now dubbed “the Cornhusker kickback”-that’s valued at $45 million. While Capps has secured no such deal, she did get language inserted into the House bill that would change the formula by which Medicare currently reimburses medical treatment in counties-like Santa Barbara-that have been dubbed “rural.” Based on that rural designation, Cottage Hospital estimates it gets paid only 72 cents for every dollar of treatment delivered. Before any bill is finally approved, the House and Senate versions must be reconciled. During that process, Capps stated she will fight to weaken the anti-abortion language in both versions.