Friday, January 15, 2010

Never Go Back: An Update on Healthcare Reform

With visions of "STOP STUPAK" signs dancing in our heads, the fight for comprehensive health care reform and against additional abortion restrictions continued into the wee hours of Christmas Eve in the Senate. The result? The passage of a health care reform act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, that leaves much to celebrate and much to be desired.

Similar to the House bill (known as the Affordable Health Care for America Act) the Senate reforms include great victories for all people, especially women, including: the elimination of gender rating in insurance prices, banning pre-existing conditions, capping out of pocket expenses, and expanding Medicaid to include individuals at 150% of the federal poverty level. With this bill millions of individuals would gain access to health insurance and being a woman would no longer be considered a pre-existing condition. A true victory, indeed.

But with all victories, the devil is in the details. Additional abortion restrictions, known as the "Nelson Compromise," were included in the Senate bill to gain the decisive 60th vote of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). Unlike the Stupak Amendment found in the House bill, the Senate version does not ban abortion coverage. However, paying for your abortion coverage just got a lot more complicated.

Under the proposed provision, individuals receiving a federal subsidy or funding for their insurance coverage may choose a plan that includes abortion coverage (a victory compared to Stupak). However, that abortion coverage must be payed for with your own money. To keep the government funds clean from your "dirty abortion money" (my words, not the Senate's) the payments must be paid separately. Creating a system where individuals makes two payments to the insurance company: one for the bulk of their healthcare coverage and a separate payment into an allocation fund for abortion coverage.

As you can imagine, the additional processing and compliance regulations established with the Nelson provision would be an administrative nightmare. In the face of so many new regulations, such a disincentive would be an easy out for insurance companies to drop abortion coverage altogether. With currently 85% of private insurance plans offering abortion coverage, such a prospect would be a huge defeat.
So once again, we are faced with the prospect of more restrictions to a woman's access to abortion. As Congress begins debate on a final version of health care reform, we wait in anticipation of great progress for women's healthcare while also in fear of great setbacks.

But we will not go back.

While Congress discusses a bill that will impact all of our lives irrevocably, they must hear a unified voice of support for comprehensive health care reform but also an unwavering opposition to any additional abortion restrictions found in the Nelson and Stupak provisions. We demand health care reform but we must not restrict a woman's access to a legal medical procedure. With such an opportunity for the lives of millions of people to improve and our country to move forward, women's access to comprehensive healthcare coverage -- including coverage for abortion -- must not be pushed back.

For more information about health insurance reform and women visit FMF's special section online.

This article was featured in our January 2010 monthly Choices eZine. Sign up for our alerts to stay up-to-date with the latest feminist news and to receive the monthly eZine.

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