KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obama Budget Chief Declines To Say Whether Reform Would Direct Tax Dollars To Abortions

Obama's Budget Director, Peter Orszag, declined to rule out the possibility of using federal money to pay for abortions under the auspices of health reform legislation, saying "I am not prepared to say explicitly right now," the New York Times reports. "It's obviously a controversial issue, and it's one of the questions that is playing out in this debate," Orszag said. Using tax dollars to pay for abortion has been sharply restricted since 1976, but the possibilities of a government-run plan and vastly expanded subsidies for people to buy private insurance raise the specter of the issue.

"Under the House bill, for example, most insurers would have to provide an "essential benefits package" specified by the health and human services secretary, who would receive recommendations from a federal advisory committee," the Times reports. "Opponents of abortion want Congress to prohibit inclusion of abortion in that benefits package, while advocates of abortion rights say the package should be left to medical professionals to determine."

At any rate, if federal subsidies were used to help pay for the benefit packages that many women already have, it could violate the restrictions, because some private plans will pay for abortion procedures, anti-abortion people say. Congress would have to address that conflict; they've already limited federal employee's health benefits to cover abortions only in extreme cases, said health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (Pear and Liptak, 7/19).

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