OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — For the third year in a row, Democratic state lawmakers are pushing a measure that would require Washington insurers offering maternity care to also cover elective abortions, but as in the past, it’s likely to hit a roadblock in the Senate.
In a public hearing Monday held just hours after the start of the legislative session, the state House’s Health Care and Wellness Committee heard arguments from both sides of the debate. Opponents of the abortion insurance law have long argued that it’s unnecessary since all the plans in the state had, up until the new health care law took effect this year, been providing abortion coverage. Advocates have pointed to confusion from new rules that create more administrative burdens for insurers when they cover abortions.
A longstanding federal provision known as the Hyde amendment prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother, and insurers on the exchange have to create separate accounts that segregate premium payments for abortion services from premiums for everything else. Some states have banned abortion coverage for plans being sold on the exchanges, which are a centerpiece of the federal Affordable Care Act. Washington’s law, if passed, would be the first in the nation to require abortion coverage.
Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman with the Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, said that the federal accounting requirement has created some complications for insurers, but that currently, all plans but those offered by two companies offer full coverage for abortion services under the new health exchange. Group Health isn’t covering abortion through its plans being offered on the marketplace, but Marquis said women will still be able to access the service at Group Health facilities. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of The Northwest will cover elective surgical abortion, but Marquis said its current plans don’t cover prescriptions for drug-induced abortions. A spokesman for Kaiser said, however, that it will still provide access to abortion-inducing drugs.
Elaine Rose, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, told the committee that House Bill 2148 ensures that health decisions will continue to be made by women, “not insurance companies, not the government, not you, but women.”
Opponents argued that business owners and others will be required to pay for policies that are out of line with their personal beliefs.
“I don’t believe the citizens of the state of Washington, no matter how one might stand on the issue of abortion, want to feel forced into purchasing a health insurance policy that covers and includes abortion,” said Michael Norton, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom. “Litigation would naturally result.”
Marquis noted that under federal requirements, eight Blue Cross multistate plans offered by Premera in Washington state don’t offer abortion coverage, and if the House measure is passed, it wouldn’t require abortion coverage on those multistate plans, Marquis said.
The measure passed the House last year, but stalled in the Senate, which is controlled by the Majority Coalition Caucus, a group of 24 Republicans and two Democrats. Its success this year in the Senate remains questionable. Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, the Democratic leader of the predominantly-Republican Majority Coalition Caucus, said Monday that while he personally supports the measure, there are other issues that will likely take precedence during the 60-day session.
“To me to sit here and say the most important bill that we’re going to pass this year is a bill that no other state has passed … I think we need to get back to kitchen table issues,” he said. “What I’m hearing from my constituents is what can we do to move this economy forward? Focus on the big issues, don’t focus on those issues that are politically divisive.”
After the hearing, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, a Democrat from Tacoma who is a member of the Health Care and Wellness Committee, said she expects the measure to pass the House once again but is uncertain about the fate of the bill in the Senate. She said she hoped that Senate leaders would simply allow a vote and see whether the proposal passes or fails.
Jinkins said it’s outrageous that some believe that insurance companies should decide the sorts of health care that people should have.
“It’s very difficult for me to hear people testify that’s what’s fair,” Jinkins said.
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