OLYMPIA — A measure that would require Washington insurers offering maternity care to also cover elective abortions cleared
the state House of Representatives on Wednesday.
passed on a 54-44 mostly party-line vote and now heads to the Senate, where it’s expected to have trouble gaining traction.
Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, who sponsored the measure, said that while abortions are already covered by most plans, this measure ensures abortion access isn’t limited if plans choose to not cover the procedures.
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“Choice belongs to an individual; it should not be made by your employer or a health-insurance company,” she said.
Opponents argued that business owners and others would be required to pay for policies out of line with their personal beliefs.
Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, called herself a “conscientious objector” of the measure.
“I’m offended that I’m going to be forced to buy a policy that’s going to do something that’s against my own moral code,” she said.
Two Democrats, Reps. Chris Hurst of Enumclaw and Roger Freeman of Federal Way, crossed party lines and voted against the measure. One Republican, Rep. Chad Magendanz, of Issaquah, voted for it.
The same measure passed the Democratic-controlled House last year but stalled in the Senate, which is controlled by the Majority Coalition Caucus, a group of 24 Republicans and two Democrats.
Advocates of the measure have pointed to confusion from new rules under the federal health-care law they say create more administrative burdens for insurers when they cover abortions.
A longstanding federal provision known as the Hyde Amendment bars using federal funds to pay for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. 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, 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 the federal accounting requirement has created some complications for insurers, but that all plans but those from 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 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 has said, however, it will still provide access to abortion-inducing drugs.
Under federal requirements, eight Blue Cross multistate plans offered by Premera in the state don’t offer abortion coverage, and if the House measure were to become law, it wouldn’t require abortion coverage on those multistate plans, Marquis said.
Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, the Senate Republican caucus chairwoman, called the measure a “political issue rather than a policy issue.”
“It is not necessary,” she said. “We are sent here to do the business of the people on policy issues.”
Parlette said she doubts the measure will get a Senate hearing this year.