By SHARMINA MANANDHAR
WASHINGTON (Nov. 12, 2009) - Abortion prohibitions do not belong in a health care reform bill because they are two separate issues, said Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin at a news conference in the Capitol Tuesday.
"Abortion is a very controversial issue with the American people. I think many of us thought the right policy is to avoid coming down on one side or the other in the abortion issue and to handle health care reform as a separate issue in itself," Cardin said, referring to an addition to the House health care reform bill called the Stupak amendment.
"I would certainly prefer a bill that does not include the Stupak amendment," he said.
That amendment, offered by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., was added to the House health care bill that passed Saturday night, 220-215. It prohibits abortion coverage under the government-run health insurance option and private plans for people receiving government subsidies.
The Senate is still working on its health insurance legislation, and a vote is expected in coming weeks.
The abortion issue is seen as one of the main hurdles in passing the Senate health care bill. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said Monday that he could not support any measure that fails to prohibit federal dollars from paying for abortions, according to published reports.
At the news conference, Cardin also called for progress on the bill because middle-class families and small businesses are suffering under the current system.
The cost of a family health insurance plan in Maryland has doubled from $6,000 to $12,000 in the last 10 years and is expected to reach $24,000 by 2017, according to Cardin.
"That's out of reach for many middle-income families in America today," Cardin said.
The news conference was called to discuss the health care reform needs for middle-class families. Also attending were Maryland small business owner Mark Derbyshire and Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.; Ted Kaufman, D-Del.; and Paul Kirk, D-Mass.
The majority of small businesses are having a tough time providing health insurance to their employees, prompting them to "compromise insurance," said Derbyshire, the owner of Park Moving and Storage in Aberdeen.
"My way of doing it is not to buy health care for families but to just give it to individuals. Much to my regret, it's an only choice," Derbyshire said. "It's way too expensive to provide it (family health insurance), so when we are talking about middle-class families, which are my employees, their families are not getting it from me anymore."
The House health bill exempts small businesses with annual payrolls less than $500,000 from providing health insurance to their employees.
Kaufman underscored the immediate need for passing the health bill.
"Those who say they are going to put standards for how we are going to pass and what we are going to pass have to look at the situation," Kaufman said. "If we do not pass this bill, we will not visit this area again for a very long time."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.