RESOLVE Supports Senator Murray’s Decision to Pull S 469
Posted by: Barbara Collura at July 22, 2015
Category: Federal and State legislation
Breaking News – Vets Bill is pulled from Committee Vote
Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), removed her bill, S 469, the Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act of 2015, from being voted on by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. This is a bill that RESOLVE has advocated in support of for the past 5 years and because of our advocates, this bill has received a great deal of bi-partisan support. The bill essentially allows the Veterans Administration (VA) to offer IVF coverage to veterans who have infertility as a result of their service to our country. Currently the VA is banned from offering IVF, a ban that has existed since 1992. This bill would overturn that outdated ban and allow wounded Veterans to build their family.
The bill was scheduled for a 2:30 PM ET vote and then should have moved to the full Senate for a vote. At the last minute a member of the Committee offered several changes (in the form of amendments) that RESOLVE and Senator Murray cannot support and that has stopped the bill from moving forward. The amendments to the bill were such that Veterans would not benefit from the positive changes proposed in the bill. RESOLVE will continue to work with our partners, including ASRM and Veterans’ advocacy groups, to advance this bill and ensure it has another opportunity to be voted on without any damaging changes or amendments. It’s time our Veterans have the right to build their family.
UPDATE ON VETS BILL - Posted July 27, 2015
RESOLVE has learned that a revised version of S 469 was ready to be presented at the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on July 22, 2015. This version is slightly different from what Senator Murray introduced on February 11, 2015. RESOLVE has now reviewed the revised bill and supports it. This revised bill was a compromise bill between Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and demonstrates the bi-partisan leadership of the Committee by Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA).
Here are key specifics of what the revised bill will cover:
- Provides medically necessary IVF treatments to covered individuals and their spouse if they have a service-connected condition which has made them unable to procreate without IVF.
- Three IVF cycles as well as 3 years of sperm, egg and embryo cryopreservation storage paid by the VA. After the 3 years of storage, the covered individual would be responsible for the cost of storage.
- Annual VA reporting on a number of metrics regarding the use of this benefit.
- Adoption assistance to cover the cost of adopting one or more children, up to 3 adoptions.
- No coverage or financial assistance for the costs of surrogacy or procuring donor egg, sperm, or embryos.
The revised bill was expected to pass in the Committee. But at the last minute, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced amendments to the bill that seriously undermined its goal of providing family-building assistance to our veterans (the “Tillis Amendments”). The first Tillis Amendment inserted a long list of expansive goals the VA would have to meet before it could offer IVF (for example, establishing nationwide networks of private health care providers). This amendment would delay the offering of needed IVF indefinitely. Other Tillis Amendments would limit physicians’ ability to offer state-of-the-art procedures such as preimplantation genetic testing and would require tracking and reporting of every embryo, invading patients’ private medical decisions in an intrusive and unnecessary way. Finally, two of the Tillis Amendments had nothing to do with the bill, S 469, but instead latched onto the controversy over Planned Parenthood and fetal tissue. Since IVF never involves fetal tissue (all treatment is over well before the fetal stage of development), this Amendment, like the others, seemed spurious and counterproductive. Lastly, the final Tillis Amendment gutted the provisions in the bill that provided funding for the family-building benefits; with no funding, the benefits could not be offered and the bill frankly could not pass.
(Those wishing to read the specifics of each Amendment may read the supplement, below.)
Adding unacceptable amendments is a time-tested tactic for derailing a bill. That is what happened here. Rather than allow the amended and inappropriate bill to come up for a vote on July 22, the bill’s sponsor, Senator Murray, withdrew it from voting.
Supplement: Senator Tillis’s Amendments
Below is RESOLVE’s analysis of the Amendments Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) attached to the Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act of 2015 (S 469) (“Tillis Amendments”). The bill’s sponsor, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), said the Tillis Amendments meant “turn[ing] their backs on wounded veterans.”
Amendments to delay the IVF benefit indefinitely
Amendment 1 would require the VA to implement a list of other far-ranging reforms before it could ever offer IVF. Such reforms included such enormous tasks as establishing nationwide networks of non-Department of Defense health care providers and adjudicating veterans’ claims for benefits. As good as these goals are, the net effect would be to stall and prevent veterans from ever receiving the benefits that S 469 was intended to provide.
Amendments aimed at Planned Parenthood (which does not provide IVF services)
Two Tillis Amendments prohibited the harvesting of fetal tissue or funding anyone who does that. Infertility patients know that this issue has nothing whatsoever to do with IVF, since IVF involves no fetal tissue. Instead, this amendment seemed aimed at requiring those who wanted to vote for the veterans to also have to vote for unrelated provisions regarding fetal tissue. Observers in the media have claimed that Tillis was capitalizing on a new controversy and using this unrelated issue to impede passage of the bill.
Amendments to add unacceptable prohibitions or requirements
Amendment 4 would prohibit patients from being able to test their embryos using PGD or PGS or from not using an embryo because of the results. However, the use of PGD and PGS on embryos can mean the difference between having a child with a severe genetic condition or not. This amendment is not acceptable to our community. Allowing patients to be able to test an embryo if warranted is crucial. Some people actually use IVF because they have had other children with fatal genetic conditions, and desire a healthy child free of the condition.
In keeping with the strategy of adding amendments that were designed to be unacceptable, Amendment 5 would require the VA to track and report the number of embryos created, destroyed, transferred, or cryopreserved. RESOLVE absolutely objects to this Amendment as intrusive and unnecessary. Congress already requires every IVF cycle in the U.S. to be reported to the CDC so that pregnancy success rate outcomes can be calculated and reported to the public. This additional tracking and reporting about people’s private decisions regarding their embryos (something RESOLVE and fertility patients have fought against consistently) is not needed at all and is meant to demonize people who do IVF.
Amendment to remove the bill’s payment provisions
Finally, Amendment 6 leaves no doubt as to the author’s intent to defeat S 469: it deletes the payment language in the original bill completely. It does not offer any other alternative for how to pay for the benefits in the bill. Without a means of payment, the bill is essentially dead; no bill is going to pass unless there is some way to pay for it. Senator Tillis did not offer any alternative offsets (i.e. payment method).
As RESOLVE said above, saddling it with unacceptable amendments is a well-recognized way to defeat a bill, and that is what was done to S 469 and to our nation’s veterans. We understand why Senator Murray had no choice but to withdraw the bill as amended. We agree with that decision – sadly and with outrage that it happened.