The Federal Employee Health Benefits program, biggest "company" plan in the nation, would be prohibited from paying for abortions -- unless the mother's life was in danger -- under House-passed legislation that is due up for Senate consideration next week.
Last year the FEHB, which covers nearly 10 million government workers, their spouses and children, paid out $9 million for 17,000 abortions. A rider attached to the Treasury Department appropriation bill -- which has cleared the House and is now before the Senate -- bans FEHB from paying for abortions except in life-threatening situations. The controversial antiabortion language was sponsored by Rep. John Ashbrook (R-Ohio).
The Senate Budget Committee, working on the Treasury Department money bill (which must be approved by Sept. 30), voted 13 to 7 to exclude Ashbrook's antiabortion funding language (which cleared the House nearly 2 to 1) from the Senate bill.
Insiders expect that the antiabortion language will be added to the Treasury money package when it goes before the full Senate, perhaps early next week. Past attempts to ban the FEHB from paying for non-emergency abortions have cleared the House but have always been killed in the Senate. This year, however, the Senate has a different cast of characters, including many new conservative Republicans and Democrats who could make the difference.
The Office of Personnel Management, which negotiates with more than 100 carriers in the FEHB for benefits and premiums, is wrapping up those negotiatons. It has prepared a contingency plan that -- in event the antiabortion language is approved -- would stop most FEHB-paid abortions beginning next year, or whenever the Congress applied the cutoff, which could come as early as Oct. 1.
Meantime, the OPM is considering independent action that would drop most kinds of abortion benefits in the FEHB program next year no matter what Congress decides. OPM Director Donald Devine is considering a position paper that would ban non-emergency FEHB abortions in 1982. OPM has warned key members of Congress that benefits must be cut back and premiums raised in many plans next year to avoid financial disaster for the program. The possibility that OPM may act on its own on the abortion issue has prompted the American Federation of Government Employees to file suit in U.S. District Court to block any administrative cutback in abortion benefits.