Last spring, Health and Human Services Secretary Richard S. Schweiker caused a minor flap when he decided that Medicare money, in effect, could be used for anti-union activities. Reversing a rule adopted during the Carter administration, Schweiker said hospitals and nursing homes could bill Medicare for the services of lawyers and consultants who ran campaigns designed to keep employes from joining unions. Schweiker said it was too difficult to distinguish anti-union drives from other kinds of consulting activities. His decision was expected to cost the federal government about $30 million a year.

The unions were less than thrilled, and in last week's House-Senate conference on the tax bill they got a chance to counter Schweiker's move. The American Nurses Association and the Service Employes International Union pushed for language that would bar the use of Medicare money to influence anti-union drives, and Reps. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) and Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) got the conferees to go along. The American Hospital Association lobbied against it, but was too busy fighting several larger cuts in Medicare spending cuts to mount an effective campaign. Union officials say they're going to be on guard to make hospitals live up to the congressional ban.