News Politics

New Hyde Amendment Controversy Brews in Congress Over Medicare Funding Bill

Emily Crockett

For the second time in as many weeks, a bipartisan bill in Congress is running into controversy because of objections to anti-choice language in the bill.

A bipartisan bill in Congress is running into controversy because of objections to anti-choice language in the bill for the second time in as many weeks.

Already this week, Democrats filibustered a bill intended to address human trafficking five times because it would expand the reach of the Hyde Amendment, which discriminates against low-income women by restricting federal funding for abortion coverage.

The new controversy is also over Hyde language, this time in a bill that would address the Medicare “doc fix” issue.

Congress, every year for 18 years, has had to pass legislation to prevent Medicare reimbursement rates from plummeting. The “sustainable growth rate” (SGR) formula, which passed in 1997, determines how much doctors can be reimbursed by Medicare based on the rate of economic growth—but that formula proved inadequate because health-care costs rose much faster than overall economic growth.

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A compromise plan in the House to fix the broken formula also includes Hyde Amendment language that prohibits funding for abortion at community health clinics.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, issued a statement objecting to the “abortion policy rider,” calling it “a complete nonstarter that has no place in a bill about access to care for America’s seniors and children.”

Adam Jentleson, a spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), said the language represents a “codification” of the Hyde Amendment that is “part of a systematic effort by Republicans to expand its scope.”

Reproductive health and justice advocates criticized the measure on Friday.

“The harm of the Hyde Amendment is real, with a disproportionate impact on Latinas and women of color,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “We urge Congress to stop using low-income women as a political bargaining chip.”

“Congress should be expanding women’s access to basic, preventive health care,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “Instead, women’s health care access is being ignored while some politicians instead continue their fixation on blocking the most vulnerable women’s access to abortion.”

Pro-choice House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is defending the hard-fought deal she struck with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

“In contrast to the effort by Republicans on the Senate trafficking bill, this is not a codification of Hyde because the language expires when the funds do,” said Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson.

Hammill noted that a 2010 executive order signed by President Obama already applies Hyde restrictions to community health centers, and expressed concern that funding for such centers could decline if this deal doesn’t go through.

Advocates argue that putting the language into an authorization bill rather than the annual appropriations bills, which is where Hyde usually goes, would set an alarming precedent for expanding Hyde even further.

“I hope the House will take a page from the Senate and stand strong against attempts to make abortion unaffordable and out of reach for women,” said Shivana Jorawar, reproductive justice program director at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

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