The highly charged state debate over an abortion bill has turned to one of the most controversial aspects of the recently enacted federal health care law.
While legislators for weeks focused on the issue of ultrasounds for women seeking an abortion, the law also would have prohibited women who get government subsidies for health insurance from purchasing insurance policies that cover abortions.
When Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill, former Florida House Speaker and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio promptly released a statement that "Gov. Crist's veto also clears the way for taxpayer funding of abortion in Florida."
The statement, however, is based on a misleading assumption about the national health care law.
First, a few words about the federal law. It will create state-run health insurance exchanges in which private companies will compete for the business of people who do not get insurance through their employers. The idea is that it will allow individuals to get group rates enjoyed by those in big employer plans. People who cannot afford insurance will get government subsidies to offset the cost of purchasing a plan in the exchange.
How to deal with abortion in the health care exchanges predictably became a thorny political issue that threatened the law's very passage, and several alternatives were considered. The final language signed into law, crafted by abortion opponent Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., will allow insurance companies in the exchange to offer abortion services, even to people who get federal subsidies.
But Nelson's provision specifically prohibits the use of federal dollars to fund abortions, except in the case of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in peril. Rather, insurance companies would be required to pay for abortion services from a segregated pool of money funded through patient premiums. Essentially, people who select plans that cover abortions would have to pay at least $1 a month of their premiums into a separate account. Any abortion services provided by the insurer would have to be drawn from that segregated account.
The national health care law also gives states an opt-out. States could pass laws to prohibit abortion coverage in health plans offered on the state exchange if they chose. That's what Florida's HB 1143 attempted to do.
Section 101 of the bill states, "A health insurance policy or group health insurance policy purchased in whole or in part with state or federal funds through an exchange created pursuant to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may not provide coverage for an (elective) abortion. . . . A policy is deemed to be purchased with state or federal funds if it is a policy toward which any tax credit or cost-sharing credit is applied."
Again, Crist vetoed that bill.
But the rhetoric on this issue can be tricky. For example, Florida House Republicans were right when they said in a news release after Crist's veto that "Recent federal health care legislation gave states the opportunity to opt-out of federal provisions using tax dollars . . . to subsidize insurance plans that fund elective abortions." Yes, the federal law would allow tax dollars to subsidize someone's policy even if the individual chose a plan that covers abortion. And so it would certainly be fair to say that many women who cannot currently afford health insurance will be given tax subsidies and many of them may choose plans that offer abortion services.
But the House Republicans' release was wrong when it said the law would "force Florida taxpayers to pay for elective abortions." Any abortions would be paid through a separate account funded entirely through a portion of premiums paid by people who select a plan that covers abortion services, not from tax dollars. That's an important difference. Everyone who buys into a plan that covers abortion would have to pay into that abortion fund, even men. And for those with moral objections to paying a portion of their premiums for abortion services, the federal law requires that every region offer at least one alternative health plan that does not cover abortion.
Before signing off on the abortion language in the national health care bill, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich, persuaded President Barack Obama to issue an executive order providing a way to ensure two checks go to insurers every month, so that abortion dollars and federal dollars are not commingled. And Stupak, who up until that point had been the champion of the abortion foes' position, declared, "There will be no public funding for abortion in this legislation."
We agree. That was the case before Crist vetoed the Florida bill. And it's true after.
Abortion foes argue the federal rules are little more than an accounting trick, that if federal subsidies go to someone who chooses a plan that covers abortion, it's the same as taxpayer-funded abortion. But we think it's misleading to call it taxpayer-funded abortion when the law requires abortions be paid solely through a portion of the premiums (not tax dollars) paid by people who choose a plan that covers abortions.
We rule Rubio's statement False.
Robert Farley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.