Senate Democrats stall Medicare reform bill over abortion… | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Senate Democrats stall Medicare reform bill over abortion funding ban

Dr. Bruce Stowell shakes hands with patient Robert Busch at his office in Grants Pass, Ore. Associated Press/Photo by Jeff Barnard

Senate Democrats stall Medicare reform bill over abortion funding ban

For 17 years, lawmakers have attempted to change Medicare’s formula for reimbursing physicians. The annually passed fixes have been expensive, and the proposed reform isn’t exactly cheap. But rather than focusing on budgetary responsibility, the debate surrounding this year’s bill has centered on a section that applies Hyde Amendment language to community health center funding.

Language mirroring the Hyde Amendment, which forbids using federal money to fund abortions, has threatened this month to derail two congressional bills otherwise considered bipartisan. Some pro-abortion advocates fear the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act and the Medicare reform package would permanently codify the Hyde Amendment, which has been passed annually with appropriations legislation since 1976.

The human trafficking bill sailed through congress until Senate Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, realized it included Hyde Amendment language affecting abortions for sex trafficking victims.

The Medicare reform bill prohibits federal funding for abortions at community health centers except in cases of rape, incest, or threats to the mother’s life. Though the prohibition expires in two years with the funding, abortion advocates claim the language expands the Hyde Amendment’s reach. Both Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America have called for a no vote from pro-choice lawmakers.

“This bill is yet another in a long series of bills that are a premeditated, coordinated, and sustained attack on women’s healthcare and advance the far-right wing goal of banning abortion all together,” said NARAL President Ilyse Hogue.

But the organizations’ concerns didn’t affect the House vote: The bill passed 392-37 amid Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s assurances it wouldn’t make Hyde permanent.

“I said to my colleagues this morning, I would leave Congress before I voted for the codification of the Hyde language,” she told reporters last week. “That’s not what this bill does.”

The bill recreates the formula for determining physician reimbursement under Medicare. A 1997 bill based the formula on economic growth, but Congress has forestalled the resulting physician pay cuts by passing expensive, temporary fixes. The current bill bases reimbursement on quality of care and cancels the 21 percent reimbursement cut scheduled for April 1.

But the proposal is still expensive: Some forecast it will add $141 billion to U.S. deficits over 10 years, Reuters reported. The bill also increases costs for wealthier Medicare recipients and cuts reimbursements to some providers.

While Pelosi is convinced the bill doesn’t codify the decades-old abortion-funding ban, her colleagues in the Senate are not so sure.

Reid tweeted last week he would “stand up for women against Republican efforts to codify and expand the scope of Hyde restrictions.” But opponents label Reid’s balking as simple partisan politicking.

Reid “seems to only be happy if the Senate is not functioning,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told The Boston Globe.

Even President Barak Obama promised to sign the bill if it reaches his desk. Reid declined to comment on how he would vote on the bill until after it passed in the House—perhaps to avoid voicing his approval before discovering abortion funding regulations like those in the human trafficking bill.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, has worked for 12 years to reform Medicare’s physician reimbursement. This is not the first time Reid has stymied those efforts.

“Historically, [Reid] has been the difficulty,” Burgess told The Hill.

Anna Paprocki, staff counsel for Americans United for Life, told me the Hyde Amendment hang-ups demonstrate the need for the No Tax Payer Funding for Abortion Act. If passed, bills would no longer stall over abortion funding since the act would prohibit federal abortion funding across the board.

Regardless, adding Hyde Amendment language to bills “shouldn’t be controversial,” Paprocki said. “[Abortion advocates] have such an extreme commitment to the abortion industry, and it shows that their priorities are out of whack and not what the American people would want.”

The Senate postponed voting on the Medicare reform package until after the Easter and Passover holidays. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the delayed vote wouldn’t impact doctors’ reimbursements thanks to a two-week grace period, and he remained optimistic about the bill’s passage.

“We’ll turn to it very quickly when we get back,” he told Reuters. “I think there’s every reason to believe it’s going to pass the Senate by a very large majority.”

Courtney Crandell Courtney is a former WORLD correspondent.

An actual newsletter worth subscribing to instead of just a collection of links. —Adam

Sign up to receive The Sift email newsletter each weekday morning for the latest headlines from WORLD’s breaking news team.

Please wait while we load the latest comments...