As a women's health advocate, there is much to celebrate in the announcement from the Obama-Biden transition team that Senator Daschle will be appointed as Director of the new White House Office on Health Reform as well as his nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Senator Daschle's progressive vision for health care reform articulates a clear role for government in making health care coverage universal and in promoting higher quality care with accountability for outcomes. Brokering this kind of systemic change requires more than a good plan and Senator Daschle is an accomplished politician who has shown himself capable of translating shared interests into policy change. The future looks good. With one possible hiccup.
Like many others, Senator Daschle has pointed to the Federal Employee Health Benefits program as a possible mechanism for closing the health insurance coverage gap for almost 46 million Americans. FEHB is the mechanism through which the federal government contributes the cost of premiums as part of the 1.8 million federal employees' benefits package. It is not a government controlled program; it is a network of more than 300 insurance plans. Unfortunately, for almost twenty-five years the federal government has banned federal employees from choosing a health care plan that covered abortion.
The one exception is 1993-94 when a democratically controlled Congress allowed federal employees to make their own decisions on health care coverage. In 1994, 178 FEHB plans out of 345 offered abortion coverage. Federal employees who did not want the coverage could chose a plan that did not offer coverage. But when the Republicans took over the majorities in the House and Senate, an across the board ban was reinstated.
Even if we disagree on abortion, singling out one aspect of health care coverage for discrimination is a practice that should not continue under the new Congress and Administration. Providing a range of options for health coverage allows individuals to make the best decision for their families and their individual circumstances.