Congressmember Lois Capps termed the compromise abortion language included in the Senate version of the health care reform package “far from perfect.” But she said it was considerably better than language in the House version which, according to Capps, would effectively bar 85 percent of women from obtaining insurance coverage for abortions.
Capps-who has a 100 percent pro-choice voting record-had 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 far more restrictive proposal backed by the U.S. Conference of Bishops. Under that bill, 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 a sticking point in Senate negotiations over health care, 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 any reform package whatsoever, he enjoyed considerable leverage. Ultimately, Nelson agreed to language that pro-choice advocates found somewhat less objectionable. The Senate bill would 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. Presumably, the latter would not include any of the federal subsidy. Partisans on both sides of the abortion debate have denounced this compromise.
To sweeten the deal for Nelson, the Senate bill includes language giving Nebraska Medicare subsidies far in excess of what other states receive. That subsidy-now dubbed “the Cornhusker kick-back”-has been 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 reimburses medical treatment in counties, like Santa Barbara, that have been dubbed “rural.” Based on that rural designation, Cottage Hospital estimates it currently 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.