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Baucus Senate bill at odds with Obama abortion pledge

WASHINGTON (BP)–A health care plan introduced Sept. 16 by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus would cover elective abortions and is fraught with many of the same problems found in the leading House bill, pro-life leaders say.

Baucus, a Democrat from Montana who is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, released his much-anticipated plan one week after President Obama pledged that “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions” in any plan he supports. On Sunday, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, repeated Obama’s promise, saying regarding the issue of abortion, “I think the legislative language will reflect what the president has just said.”

But Baucus’ 223-page bill explicitly lays out a plan for abortion coverage on pages 25-27, and critics say it uses federal funds to fund the procedures.

The bill will be debated in the Senate Finance Committee and Republicans are pledging to offer amendments explicitly prohibiting abortion coverage.

“There are still some serious outstanding issues that have yet to be resolved,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R.-Iowa, said in a statement. “Like preventing taxpayer funding of abortion services….”

Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said in a statement regarding the House bill and the Baucus bill, “These bills are not consistent with President Obama’s September 9 claim that ‘no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions.'”

Baucus’ plan does not include a government-backed public option, which has been a source of controversy in the House bill because of its method of funding abortion. But the Baucus bill nevertheless ensures that abortion will be covered. For instance, the bill:

— allows tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies for lower-income people to be used to purchase private insurance plans that pay for elective abortions. The bill requires the insurance companies to segregate their internal funds and not use federal dollars to pay for the abortions. Critics call it an accounting gimmick.

— requires that each area of the country offering an insurance exchange provide at least one plan that pays for elective abortions and one plan that does not pay for them.

— prevents private insurers from being required to cover elective abortions but leaves the door open to changing the policy if the Hyde Amendment is not renewed. The Hyde Amendment traditionally has been attached each year to the Health and Human Services appropriations bill to prevent Medicaid from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life. It must be renewed each year to remain in effect, and many Democrats in Congress oppose it.

Much of the Baucus bill language on abortion, in fact, includes loopholes that would further liberalize the abortion policy if the Hyde Amendment is not renewed.

For instance, the bill states, “[A]bortion cannot be a mandated benefit as part of a minimum benefits package except in those cases for which Federal funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services are permitted” — meaning that if the Hyde Amendment is not renewed and HHS is allowed to cover elective abortions through Medicaid, then private insurance companies could be forced to cover elective abortions under a minimum benefits requirement.

The bill further states, “No tax credit or cost-sharing credits may be used [by insurance companies] to pay for abortions beyond those permitted by the most recent appropriation for the Department of Health and Human Services.” Thus, if the Hyde Amendment isn’t renewed, insurance companies would no longer be required to segregate their funds.

The bill also provides $6 billion to set up consumer-run insurance cooperatives but provides no restrictions on abortion coverage.

Pro-lifers say any health care program should follow the lead of current law, which prevents the Federal Employees Health Benefits program — the insurance plan used by federal employees — from covering elective abortions.

Johnson said the bill “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,” Johnson said. “We will work in support of amendments to eliminate the abortion mandates and federal abortion subsidies.”

The bill, Johnson added, “contains provisions that would send massive federal subsidies directly to both private insurance plans and government-chartered cooperatives that pay for elective abortion.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the “accounting used in the bill is a matter of smoke and mirrors, since elective abortion is authorized for health plans receiving government subsidies.”

“If President Obama is serious about preventing funding for abortion in health care reform, he should immediately support adoption of Democrat Rep. Bart Stupak’s amendment to exclude abortion from all health care reform legislation. Democrat Senator Bob Casey voted for such an amendment in the Senate Health Committee,” Perkins said. “It’s time for President Obama to stop the smoke and mirrors on abortion and health care and straightforwardly tell Congress to permanently exclude abortion coverage,” Perkins said.

A Rasmussen poll released Sept. 17 suggested that 48 percent of likely voters believe any federally subsidized health care plan should prohibit abortion coverage. Another 13 percent believe it should cover abortion and 32 percent believe it should have no requirement concerning abortion. The poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted Sept. 14-15.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Baucus’ bill can be read online at http://bit.ly/uagGa. For more information about the abortion/health controversyclick here.

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  • Michael Foust