Jackie Judd of the Kaiser Family Foundation is joined by Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News to talk about the Republican efforts to defund health law implementation as well as funding for Planned Parenthood.
As part of legislation to keep the government funded through March 4, House Republicans passed a series of amendments aimed at defunding implementation of the health care law. Separately, the Obama administration rescinded part of a 2008 conscience clause regulation they said could impact patients’ access to medical care. Proponents of the 2008 rule, however, say it is needed to ensure that medical providers are not required to perform services that conflict with their religious beliefs.
JACKIE JUDD: Good day. I am Jackie Judd. Funding for the health care reform law and for Planned Parenthood, that’s the focus of today’s Health on the Hill. And on the set as always is Mary Agnes Carey, senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News. Welcome.
Before Congress broke for a week long recess, the House, led by the Republicans, made deep cuts in the spending. Included in that was essentially a freeze on any money that would be used to implement the health care reform law, but there was actually a series of amendments that were fairly targeted – what were those amendments, what would they do?
MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, there would be no funding for any employee of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor to implement the health care law, no funding for anyone at the Internal Revenue Service to implement the individual mandate. They didn’t repeal the mandate; they simply said there is no money there to implement it. No money for any employee to work on the health insurance exchanges or the medical loss ratios, again those ratios that say insurers have to spend a certain amount of the premium dollar on medical care. I think that the Republicans really wanted to make it very clear to their supporters: we dislike the law, we’ve already vote to repeal the law, and we want to make sure there is absolutely no money to fund it. But they wanted to have an aggressive, coordinated attack against the funding for the health law and that’s exactly what they did.
JACKIE JUDD: But the conventional thinking, of course, is that it stops in the House, that the Senate controlled by Democrats would not approve this, of course.
MARY AGNES CAREY: Right. That’s exactly right, but then again as we know, any continuing resolution, any law that’s passed, different versions in the House and the Senate, they’ve got to negotiate it. I think House Republicans wanted the strongest negotiating position they could have.
JACKIE JUDD: Part of the spending cuts had to do with Planned Parenthood, the nationwide organization that provides support for typically poor women who need health care, including reproductive health care. Funding was cut. The Republicans said federal dollars shouldn’t be provided to organizations that do provide abortions; Democrats said this was an assault on the health of poor women. Is the future of this in the Senate as certain as it appears to be for the other issues we just talked about, that it would be defeated?
MARY AGNES CAREY: The difficulty is that they will need 60 votes to stop this amendment, which was offered by Mike Pence and successfully adopted, as you mentioned. That’s where Democrats are a little nervous. Their numbers are lower now after the last election. They don’t know how much Republican support they are going to receive. They’ve gotten some in the past from some moderate Republicans, but that’s sort of the tipping point, the unknown on this in the Senate.
JACKIE JUDD: And Planned Parenthood itself does not use federal dollars for abortions, correct?
MARY AGNES CAREY: Exactly. They use that money for preventive health services, for family planning, for Pap smears, for yearly checkups, but Republican conservatives have long had a discomfort with this. They are arguing it’s kind of an accounting, a shell game if you will. Just because the federal money isn’t used for abortion services, and federal money is used for the sort of preventive services and family planning we are talking about, that it is kind of a back-door way for Planned Parenthood to fund abortions, even though they are not using the federal money, so that is where they are upset about that.
JACKIE JUDD: Sticking with this issue of abortion and reproductive health, late last week the Obama administration rolled back a portion of a rule that the Bush administration enacted in its final days. It’s known as the “conscience clause,” intended to protect health care workers who may have religious or political objections to having anything to do with abortion or reproductive health. What was rolled back and what are the objections to that action?
MARY AGNES CAREY: What the administration said was that this particular rule went too far. In their interpretation, it could allow a pharmacist not to fill a prescription for birth control. It could allow an insurer to say we don’t want to offer family planning services, even though they are offering coverage in a state that required that family planning services be offered. Those on the other side of the equation are saying that conscious rights of workers would not be as strongly protected with the rollback of the administration but the administration disagrees with that.
JACKIE JUDD: Have we heard the last of this?
MARY AGNES CAREY: No, we haven’t. I think you will see some action on the House floor. Chris Smith is a Republican from New Jersey; an abortion rights opponent has said that he is going to put forward legislation to strengthen “conscience clause” protections for workers.
JACKIE JUDD: Okay, thank you so much, Mary Agnes Carey.