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Abortion Amendment Expected Today

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, December 7, 2009

While the Senate reform process continued to "crawl forward," as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called it, for the past seven straight days, the action may pick up somewhat Monday with the controversial amendment on abortion, which will probably be introduced by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE). Reid announced the move late yesterday afternoon during a rare weekend of the Senate in session.

The language in the amendment is anticipated to closely follow the "Stupak" legislation approved a month ago by the House. Basically, it would ban abortion coverage under the public insurance option, while prohibiting insurers from covering abortion services for any woman who receives federal subsidies to purchase insurance in the insurance exchange. Exceptions would be made in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman's life.

The current Senate bill, which is less stricter than the House bill, calls for insurers to guarantee that only private funds be used for abortions. The amendment unlikely will not get the needed 60 votes to be included in the Senate bill. However, attention will be paid to see if additional compromises are needed to obtain Nelson's support for the overall Senate bill.

Meanwhile, the public insurance option idea is receiving new life. Ten Democratic senators, including Nelson, Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Russ Feingold (D-WI) met this weekend to discuss ways to resolve issues for the option.

Feingold, speaking Sunday on ABC's "This Week," said the talks are "exciting . . . they're getting closer" and that he was "cautiously optimistic" that they were "going to be able to pull everybody together." Feingold, an advocate of the public option, said that multiple approaches were being examined that either "creates a new public option or an expansion of current public programs."

One idea discussed would model the public insurance plan on coverage offered to federal employees, Nelson and Feingold said. That would let companies sell insurance to businesses in all 50 states under the oversight of the Office of Personnel Management.

One of the newer options under discussion is a model of a national nonprofit insurance plan—providing coverage similar to the way coverage is offered to federal employees. With this model, companies would sell insurance to businesses in all states under the oversight of the federal Office of Personnel Management.

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