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February 1, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Protect insurance coverage for abortions in Washington

The House Health Care and Welfare Committee held a hearing Thursday morning on the Reproductive Parity Act. It’s the Senate’s turn to do the same.

Watch fascinating testimony on both sides of the issue below, courtesy of TVW.

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ICYMI: here’s The Seattle Times’ recent editorial supporting SB 5009 and its companion bill in the lower chamber, HB 1044.

Abortion opponents denounce the Reproductive Parity Act (RPA) as a mandate because it would require insurance companies to cover abortions if they cover maternity care.  This is true, but it overlooks two other points. First, the RPA includes religion and conscience exemptions. Second, without the measure, some women risk losing access to abortions if their insurance decides to stop covering the procedure.


Obamacare has received praise for helping women receive better care, but the final deal came at a cost during negotiations in 2010. According to the National Women’s Law Center, ” the health care law explicitly allows states to pass laws banning private insurance coverage of abortion in any exchange set up in their state.”

The Reproductive Parity Act would prevent this outcome in Washington. The bill protects current coverage levels. So far, insurance companies have not protested the measure. They also haven’t promised to maintain the status quo. The state could be the first to take legislative action to protect a woman’s right to be insured for abortion.

Other states are going in the opposite direction.

Take a look at the map below, also from NWLC. It shows 18 other states have banned insurance coverage of abortion in state exchanges. Six — including neighboring Idaho —go further and prohibit plans outside the exchange from paying for the procedure. Kentucky and North Dakota have the strictest laws — neither allows public or private insurance coverage for abortion.

(Map source: National Women’s Law Center)

Again, most plans in Washington already cover both maternal care and abortion. The  big question is whether those rights will be maintained after the Affordable Care Act takes effect in January 2014. At that point, Washington’s health exchange will be in place. Insurance companies will be subject to a new business climate. Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest spokeswoman Sara Kiesler explained the implications in an email to me earlier this week. Here’s an excerpt:

What Obamacare does do is allow insurance companies that cover abortions to participate in federally funded exchanges, assuming state law doesn’t prohibit it. If they choose to do so, though, they must set up a dual-payment system in which women receiving subsidies will have to pay a separate premium for abortion coverage—creating a financial burden for women and an administrative hassle for insurance companies.

At least two federal insurance plans joining the exchange will not cover abortion. Will other insurers be frustrated by the red tape and opt out?

I hope not, but that’s why the Reproductive Parity Act is important in a state like Washington where there’s historical, widespread support for a woman’s right to determine her own reproductive health decisions — regardless of her insurance situation.

Comments | Topics: abortion, politics, Reproductive health


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