What Will the Baucus Healthcare Plan Mean for Abortion?

A fight over what the new Senate healthcare plan means for abortion coverage is already underway.

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Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

What will the Senate healthcare plan released today by Max Baucus mean for abortion coverage? Judging from the experience decoding the House bill's abortion provisions—when journalists and advocacy groups on all sides of the issue spent days arguing over their meaning before getting it right—it may be a little while until we know for sure.

Beliefnet's Steve Waldman says the Baucus bill is "more pro-life" than the House version in a couple of 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.

But the National Right to Life to Life Committee is having none of it. Excerpts from its release on the Baucus plan this evening:

ABORTION MANDATES AND FEDERAL SUBSIDIES

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 su pport 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 w hich 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 ... .

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 abort ion. 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 pri vate 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 ...