The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday easily passed a bipartisan bill that would permanently fix the way Medicare reimburses doctors and renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two years. The measure passed 392-37, with 33 Republicans and four Democrats voting against it.
The measure, if it becomes law, will put an end to the much-hated yearly “doc fix” ritual in which Congress is forced to pass a funding patch to keep doctors’ Medicare payments from suddenly plummeting. It fixes the broken sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula for reimbursements that has been in place for 18 years.
Reproductive health and justice advocates are objecting that the bill still includes anti-choice Hyde Amendment language to prohibit community health centers from performing abortions, except in very limited circumstances.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who brokered the unusual bipartisan deal with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), reached a compromise with Boehner on the abortion language. “Clarifying language” was added to the bill to say that the provision only maintains the status quo and is temporary, and that seemed to satisfy members of the House Pro-Choice Caucus.
“The language included in the bipartisan compromise does not further restrict women’s access to abortion, and the provisions expire along with funding—just as the current Hyde Amendment does,” caucus co-chairs Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) said in a joint statement.
But advocates say there’s more to it than that.
“I don’t find the ‘it only lasts two years’ argument very convincing, given that the original Hyde Amendment was only supposed to last one year and here we are, 38 years later, and it’s still there,” Sharon Levin, director for federal reproductive health policies at the National Women’s Law Center, told Rewire.
It’s true that under the status quo, community health centers can’t get federal funding for abortion care because of a 2010 Obama executive order. Advocates say inserting the language into this authorization bill, when Hyde language usually only comes into appropriations bills, works to set a dangerous precedent.
“The effort to add abortion restrictions to the SGR bill and to the Senate trafficking bill are part of a concerted effort by abortion opponents to expand the reach of Hyde by placing it wherever they can,” Levin said.
Since anti-choice legislators haven’t been able to make Hyde permanent in one fell swoop by passing HR 7, Levin said, “their current strategy is to achieve the same goal by placing Hyde bit by bit throughout the Code and other federal laws to achieve the same goal.”
A coalition of 34 reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations sent a letter on Wednesday urging Boehner and Pelosi to remove the Hyde language from the bill.
“As Senate Minority Leader Reid has articulated, this provision represents another incremental step towards anti-choice lawmakers’ larger goal of expanding the reach and scope of the Hyde amendment and only serves to bolster their efforts to insert this restriction into other places in law,” the letter said.
It was signed by groups such as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Advocates for Youth, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Reid has expressed concerns about the Hyde language, setting him at odds with his fellow pro-choice colleague Pelosi and making the bill’s future in the Senate uncertain. Hyde language is an especially fraught subject right now given the ongoing turmoil over the Senate’s human trafficking bill.
With such overwhelming support in the House, with Senate opposition possibly softening, and with Obama saying he’d be “ready to sign” the bill, pro-choice Democrats may ignore the objections of reproductive rights advocates in the end.