Senate OKs Manager’s Amendment to Health Care Bill Funding Abortions

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 22, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate OKs Manager’s Amendment to Health Care Bill Funding Abortions

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 22
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — Tuesday morning, the Senate approved the Harry Reid manager’s amendment to the government-run health care bill. Reid’s amendment includes the so-called "compromise" language he agreed on with embattled Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska that keeps abortion funding in the bill.

The Senate voted on the manager’s amendment, number 3276, on a 60-39 vote.

All Democrats in the chamber voted for the amendment while all Republicans, except absent pro-life Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, voted against it.

The strict party-line vote was similar to the 60-40 vote in favor of the cloture motion to end the debate and filibuster against the amendment.

With the vote today, the Senate now begins 30 hours of post-cloture debate that will continue throughout the day today and tomorrow. The next vote is slated for Wednesday afternoon, when senators will vote on cloture to end debate on the pro-abortion health care bill itself.

The Senate is still expected to vote on the bill on Christmas Eve, although there has been talk this morning of moving up the vote because of further snowstorms across the country.

The amendment makes major changes to the massive abortion funding already found in the bill, as Dorinda Bordlee of the Bioethics Defense Fund explains.

"The Manager’s Amendment does not contain language similar to the pro-life Stupak amendment approved by the House," she told "Instead the section on abortion (starting on page 38) adds a provision allowing states to opt out of providing abortion coverage through the exchange and adds further layers of accounting requirements."

"The result remains the same, contrary to longstanding policy, the federal government will subsidize private health insurance plans that cover abortion, and Americans will facilitate abortion by making it more easily available. The result will be more lives lost to abortion and more wounded mothers," she continued.

"The Manager’s Amendment also strikes the public option and replaces it with a program similar to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) run by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). However, unlike the FEHBP, the Director of OPM will contract with health insurance companies to provide insurance that includes abortion," Bordlee explained.

The Manager’s Amendment also includes a reauthorization of the Indian Health Service with changes to the former policy against abortion funding in the Indian Health Services Program.

In a letter to senators urging a no vote on the anti-filibuster motion, the National Right to Life Committee pointed out that the manager’s amendment "is light years removed from the Stupak-Pitts Amendment that was approved by the House of Representatives on November 7 by a bipartisan vote of 240-194."

"The new abortion language solves none of the fundamental abortion-related problems with the underlying Senate bill, and it actually creates some new abortion-related problems," the group added.

The changes allow the federal government to subsidize private insurance plans that cover abortion on demand, to oversee multi-state plans that cover elective abortions, and to empower federal officials to mandate that private health plans cover abortions even if they do not accept subsidized enrollees.

"The abortion-related language violates the principles of the Hyde Amendment by requiring the federal government to pay premiums for private health plans that will cover any or all abortions," NRLC indicated. "The federal subsidies would be subject to a convoluted bookkeeping requirement, different in detail but similar in kind to the Capps-Waxman accounting scheme that the House of Representatives rejected."

Right to Life explained that the manager’s amendment requires all enrollees in an abortion-covering plan to make a separate payment into an account that will pay for abortions, but the amendment also contains language [Section 1303 (b)(3)(A) and (b)(3)(B)] that is apparently intended to prevent or discourage any insurer from explaining the use of the surcharge. It says there is nothing in the language to suggest that payment of the abortion charge is optional for any enrollee.

Abortion advocates and Nelson claim the language in the manager’s amendment erects a so-called "firewall" between federal funds and private funds, but NRLC explains that this is "merely a bookkeeping gimmick "inconsistent with the long-established principles that govern existing federal health programs, such as the Hyde Amendment."

The firewall also exists only so long as the annual appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services continues to contain the Hyde Amendment — thus, if Congress or the president blocks renewal of it then "the Reid bookkeeping requirements would automatically evaporate, and insurers could pay for elective abortions with the federal subsidies without even bookkeeping requirements."

This is in stark contrast with the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which would permanently prohibit the federal subsidies from paying any part of the premium of a plan that covers elective abortions.

To get the votes of moderate Democrats who opposed the public option, the Reid manager’s amendment establishes a new program under which the federal government (the Office of Personnel Management) would administer a program of "multi-state" health plans offered by private insurers.

The amendment says there must be at least one plan that does not cover abortions, but it implies that pro-abortion plans funding abortions with government funds are allowed, and possibly encouraged.

NRLC says the amendment "seems to envision a system under which the OPM director would administer multi-state plans that cover elective abortions, and perhaps even possess authority to require such plans to cover elective abortions, as long as the director also ensured that there was one plan that did not cover abortions."

The main section of the amendment that Nelson touted as the reason for his support for the manager’s amendment is the opt-out clause that allows states to opt out of funding abortions under the health care bill.

But National Right to Life explains that the clause is "defective" because it would only apply to laws enacted in the future, might be construed to conflict with some existing state laws and because it is unclear how the state opt-out clause would be interpreted in light of other provisions in the bill — such as the one granting authority to the OPM director to set the rules for the new national program of multi-state health care plans.

The House-passed bill contains language to prevent the federal government from requiring health insurance plans to cover abortions, but the Senate adopted the Mikulski amendment to allow HHS to require all health plans to cover all abortions by defining them as "preventative care."

While the manager’s amendment prohibits the federal government from defining abortion as an "essential benefit," it doesn’t mitigate the problems of the Mikulski amendment.

The manager’s amendment also creates a new taxpayer-funded abortion problem because it includes, by reference, the entire text of the Indian Health reauthorization bill (S. 1790) that does not contain an amendment (the Vitter Amendment) that was adopted by the Senate in February 2008 to make sure abortions on Indian reservations are not paid for with federal funds.

NRLC is also disappointed that the conscience protections for pro-life medical workers found in the House-passed bill under the Stupak amendment are not found in the Senate bill or the manager’s amendment.

Finally, the manager’s amendment does not contain any provisions to fix the rationing and assisted suicide promotion issues in the bill.

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