US Senate Debates Healthcare
Special Report - November 20, 2009
Tomorrow, Saturday, November 21, the Senate is expected to vote on whether to begin debate on an overhaul of the nation’s health insurance system, restoring some federal funds for Abstinence-Until-Marriage (AUM) education and adding federal funding for abortion. Senator Harry Reid (DNV) unveiled the 2,074-page amendment to HR 3590Patient Protection Affordable Care Act the evening of November 18th. It includes a government-run plan as well as government-provided affordability credits to help allay the cost for individuals who purchase insurance, and is funded by a number of new taxes combined with cuts in Medicare. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will cost $848 billion over 10 years, and would add $89 billion to the federal deficit when combined with a $210 billion so-called “doc fix” to prevent scheduled cuts to physicians’ Medicare payments from going into effect.
The proposed plan would restore Title V funding through 2014 that was eliminated in the appropriations bill passed by Congress this summer. Title V previously provided $50 million a year in block grants to states exclusively for the teaching of abstinence education, and North Carolina typically received about $1.2 million of these funds. The Senate healthcare bill also includes state block grant funding for Comprehensive-Sex-Education (CSE). “Inserting language to restore funding for abstinence education could not have come at a more critical time,” stated Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. “The recent CDC statistics detailing epidemic levels of STDs calls for a strong primary prevention messagea strategy only found within abstinence education.” She went on to impress that “the sexual health of America’s teens depend upon the kinds of skills that are a part of a typical abstinence education program.”
Most notably for pro-life Americans is the absence of the Stupak amendment that was included in the healthcare bill passed by the House on November 7th. The Stupak amendment codified current federal law that prohibits the government from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, by explicitly applying that prohibition to any government-provided plans. It also permanently prohibits any federal subsidies distributed to help cover premiums for private insurance coverage from being used to purchase plans that cover abortion. Reid’s bill requires that at least one plan in the government exchange cover abortions. Additionally, plans must include a minimum $1 premium paid to the U.S. Treasury to pay for abortion services. The Health and Human Services Secretary would determine when the government plan would cover abortion.
The Senate plan would set up new insurance marketplaces called “exchanges” in 2014 in an attempt to serve those who find it difficult to get or keep health insurance coverage. It would include an estimated $131 billion for payments for a government-run plan, $349 billion in subsidies for insurance premiums, $24 billion for employer tax credits, and $374 billion for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Medicaid eligibility would be expanded to those incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level$14,403 for individuals and $29,326 for a family of four. The bill does include a $400 billion spending cut in Medicare and $370 billion in new taxes, which would go into effect in 2010. The Medicare payroll tax would increase by one half of a percent to 1.95 percent on incomes over $200,00 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. A new tax would be levied on couples whose insurance plans are valued at $23,000 or greater. A new tax would also be levied on elective cosmetic surgery. Individuals who choose not to purchase health insurance could face penalties of up to $750 and possible jail time. Medium and larger companies who choose not to offer insurance coverage to their employees could be charged a fee if their employees receive a government subsidy to purchase health insurance. States would be allowed to opt out of participating in the government plan.
Reid, who is President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, has scheduled a vote on whether to begin debate on the bill for Saturday evening. The House passed its version, with the Stupak amendment’s prohibition on government funding for abortion, by a vote of 220215. Sixty senators must vote for the motion Saturday evening in order for the process to move forward. All 40 Republicans have vocally stated opposition to that motion. There are two independent senators, who caucus with the 58 Democrats in the chamber. Moderate and conservative members of that caucus have expressed hesitancy over the government plan and the lack of an explicit prohibition on federal funding for abortion. Also, some liberal senators insist that without a government option, they will not support the bill.
A positive vote Saturday would begin the process of floor debate and amending in the Senate. If a bill passes, select members of the House and Senate would then come together in a conference committee to reconcile the two versions of the health insurance overhaul before taking a final vote in both chambers and sending the measure to the President for his signature. According to an article in Human Events, President Obama stated in 2007 that “Reproductive care is essential care, it is basic care, so it is at the center and heart of the plan that I propose.”
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.