The Senate added two controversial health insurance requirements to a spending bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs last week, but at least one is unlikely to survive.
An amendment that would require insurers to pay for at least a 48-hour hospital stay for new mothers who have a normal vaginal birth and 96-hours for women with Caesarean sections passed by a unanimous voice vote. Approval came after the provision was modified to allow patients and physicians to decide jointly if postnatal care should occur outside the hospital.
Another amendment, which passed by a vote of 82-15, would require insurers to offer the same annual and lifetime coverage limitations for mental health benefits as for physical illnesses.
Business leaders have opposed the mental health provision, which they say would increase insurance premiums.
The amendment that passed last week was a scaled-back version of a measure that passed the Senate as part of health insurance reform but was stripped from the final bill during negotiations with the House. It's also considered unlikely the House will accept the latest version of the plan.
The maternity stay amendment has broad bipartisan support (See related stories, pages 3 and 6). In her speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago last month, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton called for approval of the measure. Several Republicans questioned whether the government should mandate benefits, but in the end, all voted for the amendment.
Twenty-eight states already have passed similar legislation.
Managed-care plans have called the measure unnecessary government intervention in clinical matters.
The underlying bill, which would set fiscal 1997 spending levels for the VA and several other agencies, passed by a vote of 95-2.
Veterans health programs would receive $17 billion under the bill, about equal to funding provided in the House spending plan. President Clinton called for similar funding for VA healthcare in his budget proposal released earlier this year.