Beware of restricting healthcare

One group of politicians is working to restrict patients’ choices in the guise of healthcare reform. They are striving to take away healthcare coverage from some 100 million Americans who now have it and are trying to insert themselves between you and your doctor in making medical decisions.

No, it is surely not Democrats seeking to reform our system. Rather, politicians misusing reform to take away health insurance coverage for abortions are now advocating one of the most far-reaching restrictions on patient choice imaginable. In giving government the power to make healthcare decisions, instead of leaving them in the hands of doctors and patients, these politicians are acting in direct opposition to the wishes of most Americans.

Nearly three-quarters of voters support requiring healthcare plans to cover women’s reproductive health services, while just 21 percent are opposed.

After hearing strongly worded arguments both for and against requiring coverage for abortion under reform, two-thirds (66 percent) support covering abortion, agreeing that healthcare, not politics, should drive coverage decisions on women’s health and abortions. Only about a quarter side with opponents’ claims that “our money” should not pay for abortions.

When it comes to health insurance coverage, abortion foes fail to gain traction even among their most likely allies, as majorities of Republicans (53 percent), older men (62 percent), Catholics (58 percent) and weekly churchgoers (60 percent) take the pro-coverage “healthcare, not politics” side.

It gets worse. Restricting the procedure would actually take away coverage most women with insurance already have, as some two-thirds of health insurance plans offered by employers now cover abortion.

Taking away coverage is something voters will not countenance. Sixty percent would oppose reform altogether if it eliminated coverage for services “like birth control or abortion,” with nearly half opposing it strongly. Just 31 percent would continue to favor an otherwise appealing reform that took away coverage for abortion.

Those who would restrict insurance coverage of abortion also run afoul of Americans’ demand that politicians stop practicing medicine and keep their hands off people’s healthcare benefits.

For years, advocates of patients’ rights argued that medical professionals, not insurance company bureaucrats, should make healthcare decisions — and voters still hope that will be a central outcome of reform. The last thing Americans want is politicians making those decisions instead — that is perhaps the only thing worse than insurance company bureaucrats determining what medical procedures get covered.

 To keep politicians away from those decisions, by a wide 75-17 percent margin, voters want an independent commission of medical professionals and citizens to decide what should be covered under reform, rather than the president and Congress. Broad support for the independent commission crosses demographic lines, as Democrats (71 percent), independents (77 percent) and Republicans (78 percent) all overwhelmingly prefer it to elected officials making coverage decisions.

Voters want this commission to make coverage decisions on abortion as well. Asked who should determine whether abortion should be covered by insurance offered through a national healthcare reform plan, fully 73 percent of voters want an independent commission to decide. Just 17 percent would support involvement by the president and Congress.

If Congress failed to take the hint, and prohibited coverage of abortion under reform, but left the remaining decisions to the commission, voters would disapprove by more than two to one. Indeed, most of those voters would be downright angry.

Using this issue to undermine health reform, or abusing reform in a backdoor effort to restrict coverage of abortion, will arouse voters’ wrath. Americans want reform and they want medical professionals, not politicians, deciding what procedures warrant healthcare coverage.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.