Women's Preventive Services Now Part of Senate Reform Bill

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , December 4, 2009

On its fourth day of floor debate, the Senate finally began to vote on amendments to the healthcare reform bill on Thursday.

Getting the first nod in a 69-31 vote was the amendment proposed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) on Monday that would promote and expand preventive healthcare for women. Insurers would now cover a range of women's health screenings and would encourage no copays for those services.

The amendment, which calls for coverage of screening procedures, such as mammographies and Pap smears, would also cover cervical cancer, postpartum depression, heart disease and diabetes. The amendment received some bipartisan support with three Republicans—Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME), Sen. Susan Collins (ME), and David Vitter (LA)—voting for it.

After that vote, the senators moved to a competing amendment that had been offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), which would prohibit government panels from determining which specific women's procedures would be covered. Her amendment just failed 59 41.(Amendments need at least 60 votes to pass.)

Meanwhile, the amendment proposed Monday by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to remove nearly $500 billion in Medicare cuts from the Senate bill was turned down in a 58 42 vote. Had the proposal passed, the Senate bill would have had to be returned back to the Senate Finance Committee.

Other amendments proposed (but no votes had been scheduled yet through Thursday) are:

  • A bipartisan proposal from Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and seven other senators that would permit Americans to purchase lower cost prescription medications from other countries, such as Canada. This amendment is likely to spur challenges from the pharmaceutical industry.
  • An amendment offered by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D VT) that would repeal the health insurance industry's antitrust exemptions—similar to the provisions found in the House bill.
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) filed an amendment supporting the idea that surpluses generated by the Senate bill be reserved for Social Security, and that savings from the long-term insurance program be reserved for that program.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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