Government Health Care Is a Double-Edged Sword

Late Saturday night, House Democrats celebrated the “historic” passage of national health care, but the victory was only made possible by forcing their liberal members to swallow a bitter pill.

To pass the 1,990-page health care legislation by a narrow 220 to 215 margin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi caved into pro-life Democrats to allow an amendment that would prohibit taxpayer funding for abortions. But to pro-choice liberals, the provision represents massive encroachment on women’s freedom.

“The assault on women’s reproductive rights continues with a vengeance,” Ellen R. Malcolm, president of the pro-choice group Emily’s List, commented. She warned that, “women would be denied coverage available today in private health plans.”

Abortion provider Planned Parenthood branded the amendment “an unacceptable addition to the health care reform bill that, if enacted, would result in women losing health benefits they have today.”

Ironically, the need for the controversial measure is a direct consequence of liberal efforts to have the government take over the health care system. The amendment, proposed by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Joe Pitts (R-PA), would merely extend protections under current law that prevent taxpayer funding for abortion through government health care programs such as Medicaid. The only reason the Stupak-Pitts amendment would apply restrictions to the private market is that the government would be drastically expanding its role in the private market as a result of the health care legislation.

Currently, women are able to purchase private health care plans that cover abortion because it remains a legal procedure and we still have a private market for the sale of health insurance. But if the House Democratic health care bill becomes law, individuals will only be allowed to purchase health insurance through a government-run exchange. And because millions of Americans will be using government subsidies to purchase insurance through the exchange, suddenly lawmakers get to have a say on what kind of private insurance policies individuals can purchase. In addition, the federal government would be directly operating one of the plans, known as the “public option.”

The Stupak-Pitts amendment, which passed Saturday night with the support of 64 Democrats, would prevent women from using federal subsidies in the new government exchange to purchase health insurance that covers abortion. It also makes sure the new government-run plan does not offer abortion coverage.

But in blasting the amendment during the House floor debate, pro-choice Democrats had no sense of irony in the arguments they were making against government command and control.

“This amendment…attempts to dictate to women how to spend their own money,” declared Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). “It’s simply outrageous.”

Yet the House bill Lee voted for within hours of making her remarks dictates that any individual must spend his or her own money to purchase a health insurance policy that is deemed acceptable by the government — even if the cost far exceeds his or her annual health care expenditures — or pay a tax under the threat of imprisonment.

“This amendment adds a new discriminatory measure against women,” Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) insisted. “Under this proposal, if a woman is of low or moderate income and receives tax credits to help her afford the premiums for a health insurance plan she purchases on the exchange, she can’t choose a plan that covers abortion services. And even if she chooses the public option, she cannot receive abortion coverage at all, even if she receives no money of any kind and pays for the plan entirely herself.”

And Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) fumed that “It attempts an unprecedented overreach into women’s basic rights and freedoms in this country.”

Yet both Nadler and DeLaura also voted for the main health care bill. In it, not only would individuals be prevented from purchasing insurance outside of a government-run exchange (under a section titled “Limitations on individual health insurance coverage”), but all of the plans offered on the exchange would be designed by a presidentially-appointed “Health Choices Commissioner.” The Commissioner, according to the bill, “shall specify the benefits to be made available under Exchange-participating health benefits plans during each plan year, consistent with subtitle C of title II and this section.” Each insurer would be required to offer a “basic” plan as defined by the Commissioner, and then could offer an “enhanced” plan, a “premium plan” and a “premium plus” plan.

And though Democrats insist that the government-run plan, or “public option,” would only be financed by the premiums it collects from beneficiaries, the House bill designates $2 billion in taxpayer money to finance start-up costs. In addition, the plan would be overseen by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who is a federal government employee whose salary is paid by taxpayers.

DeLauro asserted that “we should not be injecting this divisive and polarizing issue into our debate.” Yet the politicizing of medical issues is a natural consequence of putting government bureaucrats and lawmakers in control of the health care system.

If pro-choice Democrats are sincerely concerned about avoiding government restrictions on abortion coverage in private insurance policies, there’s a very simple solution: don’t support a government takeover of the health care system.

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