KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Democrats Shoot Down Republican Abortion Amendment, Others Pass

Members of the Senate Finance Committee wrangled Wednesday over proposed amendments to tighten abortion restrictions to the panel's health reform bill, with Democrats ultimately defeating the effort.

The New York Times: "The bill, written by the chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, says that no tax credits could be used to pay for abortions except as allowed in the latest appropriations for the Department of Health and Human Services - in case of rape or incest or if the life of a pregnant woman was in danger. Under the bill, some health plans would cover abortion, and some would not. Private insurers that chose to cover abortion would be required to segregate money, taken from private premiums, to cover the procedure. The amendment, offered Wednesday by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, would have gone much further. It said that no money provided under the legislation could be used to pay 'any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion,' with a few limited exceptions." The measure - offered by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah - was defeated 13-10 with one Democrat and one Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe, of Maine, each defecting (Pear, 9/30).

The Los Angeles Times: "The federal government has policies against subsidizing abortion in most of its existing healthcare programs. The Tricare insurance program for members of the military does not cover abortion. Nor can private insurers who offer plans to federal employees through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program cover the procedure" (Levey, 10/1).

The Hill: "Hatch's first amendment would have required women to purchase a separate, supplemental insurance plan to cover abortion services. … A second Hatch amendment, designed to strengthen existing "conscience clause" laws protecting healthcare workers from performing abortions or other services to which they have moral or ethical objections, also failed on a 10-13 vote" (Young, 9/30).

The panel considered a number of other amendments as well.

The Washington Times reports that the committee voted to allow seniors to deduct personal medical expenses when it hits 7.5 percent of their income. "Mr. Baucus's proposal will raise that rate to 10 percent for other age groups. Republican Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine joined Democrats to support the change" (Haberkorn, 10/1).

The Associated Press reports that the Senators defeated (13-10) an amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that would have required people getting federal health benefits present a government-issued ID when applying for Medicaid or Children's health care programs (9/30).

The Washington Independent: "Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) characterized the Grassley proposal as 'a solution in search of a problem.' Similar requirements, he said, have kept citizens from getting Medicaid coverage for years, particularly on Indian reservations where the poverty is endemic and ID documents scarce" (Lillis, 9/30).

Senators also passed (18-4) a bipartisan amendment to allow health care plans to give financial incentives for people to quit smoking and exercise more, Reuters reports (Smith and Whitesides, 9/30).

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