Oh Look, Senate Democrats Now Causing Abortion Ruckus Over House Medicare Deal

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Mar 20, 2015 6:45 PM
Oh Look, Senate Democrats Now Causing Abortion Ruckus Over House Medicare Deal

What is it with this party? Senate Democrats have really personified the “you shall not pass” war cry for anything abortion-related as of late. First, they’re filibustering what was an extremely bipartisan bill to combat human trafficking until their staffs missed the non-controversial Hyde Amendment language, which was added as a rider (standard operating procedure for most spending bills) to the law. Democrats knew this language was going to be in the law because Republicans told them months in advance. Heck, Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) aide found the language, but failed to inform the senator before the bill went to the judiciary committee for a vote; it passed unanimously.

Now, Senate Democrats have built the abortion wall higher, rocking Rep. Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker John Boehner’s deal on Medicare. It’s a step towards entitlement reform, and it’s sort of odd seeing such bipartisanship between Boehner and liberal stalwart Pelosi over Medicare’s sustainable growth rate. The dreaded method to keep Medicare costs controlled. It’s pretty much vilified by the medical community and regarded as a “failed policy.” So, what’s the Boehner-Pelosi?

Via Roll Call:

It’s no accident most Americans haven’t heard much about a potential deal eliminating SGR and making changes to Medicare. A long-term bill is still in question, and final details are still being hammered out. But every day without an uprising on SGR is a day closer to a deal.

It looks increasingly likely lawmakers will agree to ditch the yearly fixes to the payment formula for Medicare doctors and pay for it — at least some of it — by making changes to private Medigap plans and by forcing wealthier seniors to pay more.

Of course, the “fixes” being discussed now aren’t the most ambitious changes ever. But they are “changes” adjacent to the word “Medicare.” Sources close to the negotiations say most of the real savings would come from lowering income thresholds for aspects of Medicare that are already means-tested, such as prescriptions and doctor visits, or by increasing the percentage that these wealthier seniors have to pay for their premiums. Currently, means-testing on Medicare kicks in at $85,000 per year for individuals and $170,000 for couples.

Democrats in recent years have insisted any real changes to entitlements be coupled with tax hikes, but they’ve dropped that demand with SGR. And that could be a breakthrough for future negotiations.

Such negotiations aren’t likely to happen while Boehner is speaker. And, of course, this deal could fall apart. But GOP leadership is pushing the yet-to-be-released bill as a win for conservatives, particularly when the long-term savings are considered. Leadership acknowledges the deal would add to the deficit over the next 10 years. But proponents say skeptics should look further out and measure the proposal’s long-term savings against the fact that Congress typically doesn’t pay for SGR anyway.

BUT, Senate Democrats have an issue over abortion language (here we go again) regarding the funding of community centers providing medial services in low-income communities. Yet, Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office is arguing that the provisions don’t add to existing restrictions on federal funding of abortion. So, two top pro-choice Democrats are fighting over … abortion? It’s come to this, I guess:

An emerging bipartisan House deal changing how Medicare reimburses doctors ran into turbulence in the Senate Thursday over abortion, spotlighting a rare public disagreement between Congress' two top Democrats.

Some Democratic senators — including Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. — expressed concern that the tentative House agreement would write restrictions on abortions at community health centers into law. The centers provide medical care for millions of low-income Americans in every state.

Aides to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the Medicare agreement's health center abortion language would expire after two years and represents no change from existing restrictions.

...

The dispute comes as the Senate remains entangled in a separate abortion battle between the two parties that has stymied work on a popular bill aimed at helping victims of human trafficking.

There have been abortion curbs at community health centers for years. Senate Democrats say those limitations have been imposed by an Obama administration executive order that applied broad legal curbs on abortions to the health centers, and there is no need for a law that specifically targets those centers.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the proposed language "represents no change in current policy for health centers, and would have no operational impact at the health center level."

The roughly $200 billion Medicare deal between Pelosi and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, would block a 21 percent cut in doctors' Medicare fees that otherwise takes effect April 1. It would change how doctors are reimbursed for Medicare patients in the future and provide fresh money for a health program for low-income children.

The measure also contains $7 billion for the health centers over the next two years. Obama's 2010 health care law provided extra money for the health centers, but those additional funds end Oct. 1 and the $7 billion would keep the health centers at current levels.

In a letter to her Democratic colleagues obtained by Townhall, Rep. Pelosi assured her members that the abortion language is nothing new, and it’s not an expansion of Hyde since the provision expires:

Dear Democratic Colleague,

I am pleased with the progress we are making on a bipartisan bill to replace the broken SGR formula for Medicare physician payments – at long last ending our cycle of yearly ‘Doc Fix’ patches, providing certainty to our seniors and stability to providers. This new system transitions Medicare away from a volume-based system toward one that rewards value, ensuring payment accuracy and improving the quality of care for seniors.

This emerging bipartisan, bicameral agreement includes important victories for low-income seniors, children and families. The package will increase the quality of care for many older Americans, by providing additional funding for initiatives that help low-income seniors pay their Part B premiums. At the same time, we are funding access to health care for poor children through an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program at the same rates that were provided for in the Affordable Care Act. This funding is set to expire at the end of this fiscal year.

Lastly, in this emerging agreement, we were able to expand funding for community health centers (CHCs) by $7.2 billion for two years under the same terms that Members have previously supported and voted on almost every year since 1979. It is important to note that this proposal expires, unlike the Senate language in the trafficking bill that codifies Hyde. This proposed language represents no change in current policy for CHCs and would have no operational impact at the health center level.

Nevertheless, who thought Boehner and Pelosi could be featured in a Planned Parenthood tweet blasting them for their “#HydeAndSneak” attacks on women. Moreover, a Pelosi-Reid conflict over abortion.