Lawmakers renew push on abortion insurance bill

OLYMPIA — Democratic state lawmakers are renewing a push that fell short a year ago that would require Washington insurers to pay for abortions, in addition to the maternity care they’re already mandated to provide.

They are championing House Bill 1044, better known as the Reproductive Parity Act, which is meant to ensure that existing abortion coverage be preserved once new health insurance rules come into effect in 2014 under national health care reform.

“What we’re doing is ensuring that women in Washington state can continue to enjoy the full range of reproductive rights, so they can have the freedom of choice to make decisions with their families and their doctors,” said Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, the bill’s sponsor.

Opponents said the measure is a waste of time because all insurers in the state already cover abortion.

“The bill is completely unnecessary,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver. “It was only introduced for political fodder.”

The bill will receive a public hearing Thursday in the Health Care and Wellness Committee of the Democratic-controlled House, which passed a similar measure a year ago.

It stands in contrast to Senate Bill 5156, a Republican-sponsored bill to require minors to notify a parent before becoming eligible to receive an abortion. That measure, which originally included language threatening long-standing abortion protections in the state, will receive a hearing in the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee on Feb. 6.

Voicing a concern raised by opponents of the abortion insurance bill, Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said he feared it could run afoul of federal law prohibiting the use federal Medicaid money to pay for abortions, possibly jeopardizing billions of federal health care dollars slated for the state.

Included in the bill is a clause nullifying any portion of it found to interfere with the state’s receipt of that federal money. Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, who chairs the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee, said he was focused on crafting the budget.

“I have not paid any attention to the bill yet,” said Hill. “There’s a thousand bills yet to be dropped.”

Last year’s version of the measure never made it to the Senate floor for a vote, failing to pass out of the gate-keeping Rules Committee and then falling short in a dramatic attempt to bring it to a floor vote during a Republican-led, budget-focused takeover of the Senate floor. This year, 13 of the 22 Rules Committee members belong to the Republican-dominated majority, several of whom said they would not vote for it to come to the floor under any circumstance.

Cody said the bill is needed because under looming federal health care reforms, insurance carriers will face red tape associated with covering abortion that may tempt them to drop it from their plans. She said she is unaware of any insurer contemplating doing so.

Because federal money may not be spent on abortion, a prohibition dating to 1976, the insurers, under the federal reforms, will be required to collect two sets of premiums, one for abortion coverage and one for all other services.

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