Health Reform: Senate Facing Controversies On Coverage Numbers, Abortion Language

The Wall Street Journal: "When the Senate unveils its health-care bill, all eyes will be on the price tag. But an equally significant number may be how many people get health insurance under the legislation."

The two versions of committee-passed legislation in the Senate "would extend insurance to fewer people than the final bill passed through the House." Senate leaders have been working "to increase that number" as they combine and refine the two bills. Hospitals and insurers are warning that if a Senate bill doesn't cover more people than what the Senate committees proposed, insurance prices will increase.

"The health bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee, which is expected to form the backbone of the final Senate bill, would extend insurance to 94 percent of legal U.S. residents, up from 83 percent of legal U.S. residents currently." But it would leave 25 million without insurance. In the meantime, a mandate that individuals carry health coverage would accompany such coverage expansion, but "[i]ndustry groups are encouraging lawmakers to look at other ways of penalizing people who don't get insurance" instead of a current proposal that some say doesn't have teeth and could incentivize someone to only purchase insurance when they need it (Adamy, 11/13).

The Senate will have to wade through many such issues as it gets ready to begin debate on its health care reform bill, Time reports. "The House fight over abortion guarantees a repeat in the Senate, where conservatives are demanding a similar airtight ban on the use of federal funds to pay for the procedure, and liberals are vowing to stop one they say will also prohibit some women from using private funds" (11/12).

The Associated Press:  "millions of American women will face tough choices about abortion coverage if restrictions in the House health care bill become law." Women likely to be affected by the ban would include self-employed women who must buy their own coverage, divorced women formerly insured under their husband's plan and women who work for small businesses whose owners "decide to seek more affordable coverage through the new exchange" (Crary, 11/12).

Related KHN story: How The House Abortion Restrictions Would Work (Appleby, 11/10)

The NewsHour explains another problem facing the Senate: "It's been an uncommonly high profile year for the [Congressional Budget Office]," which is charged with the responsibility of calculating the costs and savings that will result from these legislative proposals. "The approximately 235 analysts and economists who work for the agency generally crunch numbers in relative obscurity." But this year, as the agency has often been in the spotlight, it has also been critiqued, "as some analysts and policymakers have questioned its power and its track record in providing accurate cost estimates for health care legislation." Their task is difficult, which accounts for why scores are not always accurate, officials say (Winerman, 11/12).

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