Reproductive rights advocates were disappointed Tuesday when the U.S. Senate passed a bill reforming Medicare payments that also included anti-choice language.
The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (HR 2) passed the Senate overwhelmingly on a 92-8 vote, with only Republicans voting against the bill. Some conservatives complained that not all of the bill’s costs were offset with other cuts.
The bipartisan bill, a deal brokered in the House between Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), ends the much-loathed annual tradition of the “doc fix” that requires Congress to act every year to prevent drastic cuts in Medicare payment rates to doctors. It also reauthorizes the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two years.
But a provision of the bill used Hyde Amendment language to bar community health clinics from using federal funds for abortion services. Pelosi argued that it didn’t change the status quo since a 2010 executive order does the same thing, but Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the language was unacceptable because it would expand Hyde’s reach.
Pelosi reached a compromise with Boehner on the abortion language, a clarification that the provision was temporary and only maintained the status quo.
That seemed to satisfy pro-choice Democrats, but advocates warned that the language still sets a dangerous precedent for expanding the Hyde Amendment, which also started off as “temporary” before becoming an annual routine. For 40 years, the Hyde Amendment has discriminated against low-income women by denying them coverage for abortion care through programs like Medicaid.
“It is shameful that legislation to fix the SGR became another vehicle for denying women the health care they need,” Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said in a statement.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced an amendment to the bill called the “Women’s Access to Quality Health Care Act,” which was voted down. That amendment would have stripped the Hyde language as well as increased funding for Title X family planning programs and supported training programs for women’s health nurse practitioners.
“Despite the best efforts of the champions of women’s rights and well-being in the Senate, yet another bill in Congress has been cynically used as an opportunity to score political points by denying women coverage for essential health care,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
President Obama released a statement that he will be “proud” to pass the bill into law and that it “strengthens our country’s health care system for the long term.”