KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Both Sides Puzzle Over Abortion Amendment In House Health Bill

Newspapers continue to report on the Stupak amendment to the House health bill and how it will affect access to abortion.

"[T]he Stupak amendment, named for Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), would ban individuals from using new government subsidies to buy insurance plans that cover abortion, and it would prohibit a government-operated plan - the public option - from carrying abortion coverage," Politico reports. Supporters of the amendment "say that it simply extends an existing prohibition on federal funding for abortion - an annually renewed policy called the Hyde amendment - to the health care exchange that would be established for the uninsured under the health care bill making its way through Congress. But lawmakers who support abortion rights contend that, if the Stupak amendment's logic is extended to the $250 billion in tax breaks Americans get to buy coverage through employer-based plans, it could strip abortion coverage from tens of millions of women who already have it."

Workers who have health benefits through their jobs are exempted from paying income taxes on their premium contribution. "Congress considers the income tax exclusion to be a massive 'tax expenditure' - a subsidy - for individuals to buy insurance." Many of those plans cover abortion. "Taking the concept of a subsidy one degree further - from individual purchasers to corporate providers - insurance companies that offer plans that cover abortion get tens of billions of dollars of subsidies through programs like Medicare Advantage and the 2003 prescription drug law. While few, if any, seniors have need for abortion coverage, the big insurers who administer those plans also offer insurance policies that cover abortion to younger women and their husbands and fathers" (Allen, 11/16).

Las Vegas Sun: "Days after the House voted to include stricter abortion restrictions in the health care bill, nearly 50,000 abortion rights supporters urged [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid in a petition to block the provision from the Senate bill he is crafting. Conventional wisdom says the majority leader faces a great dilemma: Reid is a Mormon who opposes abortion but is under great pressure from the Democratic base to prevent the House's strict Stupak-Pitts amendment from being included in the Senate" (Mascaro, 11/15).

The Los Angeles Times reports on the influence of Catholic bishops over abortion language in the health bills. "A number of groups oppose abortion rights, but the church is one of the few to also support Democratic efforts to overhaul healthcare. That has given the church a seat at the negotiating table. It used that influence this month as the House of Representatives prepared to vote on the healthcare legislation. Negotiators for the church worked with lawmakers to add an amendment to ensure that federal insurance subsidies do not wind up funding elective abortion." In addition, "[t]he church also had amassed goodwill during years of working with Democrats on such issues as tax credits for the working poor, immigration, climate change and nutrition programs. It had built a level of trust that other antiabortion groups could not" (Oliphant, 11/16).

NPR interviewed Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. "She's authored a letter that has been co-signed by more than 40 of her colleagues saying they will not support a final bill that includes the Stupak Amendment" (Martin, 11/13).

KHN summaries from Sunday's abortion coverage: Democrats Stymied On Abortion In Health Bill

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