Enacting comprehensive health insurance reform is no easy task - if it was, we'd have done it decades ago. Making it more difficult is the blatant misinformation being spread by some opponents of reform as well as people who perhaps just don't know better. A case in point is the House health reform bill's provision continuing the policy of restricting the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. There is a lot of misinformation about this provision, some of it probably the result of honest mistakes and some of it based on outright fabrications.
In an attempt to try to find a compromise for dealing with abortion services in the legislation, I offered an amendment that would essentially continue this ban - even though I personally oppose the Hyde Amendment - that was supported by Energy and Commerce Committee Members whose records span the pro-life and pro-choice spectrum. Our hope was that we could continue the current ban on federal funding for abortion so the issue wouldn't bog down the overall health reform legislation.
Unfortunately many -- from politicians to pundits -- misunderstand or intentionally misrepresent my amendment as a significant departure from current law. This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, many independent fact checkers and even the non-partisan Congressional Research Service have found the amendment preserves the status quo in federal abortion policy.
As I mentioned earlier, under my amendment no federal funds may be used to pay for abortions that are not allowed by current law (the Hyde Amendment, which makes exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the woman). The only funds that may be used to pay for other abortion services are from private funds generated by the policyholders' premiums, whether the policyholder is covered by a private plan or the public option.
My amendment ensures that no doctor or hospital or even insurance plan can be required to participate in providing or covering abortion services. In fact, my amendment goes beyond current law in this regard. Currently, existing statute known as the "Weldon Amendment" prohibits the government from discriminating against health providers and insurance companies who refuse to perform or pay for abortions. My amendment extends that to ensure that no private insurance plan operating in the Exchange may discriminate against health providers who refuse to perform abortions.
My amendment also ensures that in each region of the country, there is at least one plan in the Health Exchange that offers abortions services but also one plan in the Health Exchange that does not offer abortion services. This actually gives consumers who object to participating in a plan that covers abortion and are getting coverage through the Exchange a choice of insurance coverage greater than what most Americans have in the current employer-based health insurance market. Today, nearly 90 percent of employer-sponsored private health insurance plans cover abortion services.
Some people have gone so far as to claim my amendment would mandate abortion coverage in all insurance plans. This is simply untrue. My amendment specifically prohibits abortion from being included as part of the essential benefits package. No one - not the Secretary of Health and Human Services nor the Health Benefits Advisory Committee - can make abortion a part of the essential benefits package.
Private plans participating in the Exchange can choose to provide coverage for abortion or they can choose not to. And while the Secretary may choose to allow the public plan to cover abortions not allowed by the Hyde Amendment, coverage for those services must be paid for with segregated private funds. No Federal funds may be used. Importantly, while opponents of the bill's provision make much ado about the idea of segregating funds, it's hardly a new concept: the 17 states that currently cover abortion in their Medicaid programs already do it by only paying for those services with state dollars, which are kept separate from federal funds.
Having worked on public health issues most of my life I understand the strong beliefs generated by choice issues. But having strongly held beliefs doesn't give one license to distort the facts at hand. My amendment offers a common ground solution to a very challenging policy question - namely how do we deal with abortion services in health reform legislation. By adhering to current law which prohibits Federal funds from being used to cover abortions other than in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the woman, we have found a way to move forward in our efforts to protect and provide health insurance for millions of Americans without being sidetracked by re-debating the issue of abortion.
Congresswoman Lois Capps represents California's 23rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Prior to serving in Congress she worked for 20 years as a public school nurse and health advocate.
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