By John Finnerty
Both the state House and Senate are considering legislation that would bar women with health insurance through exchanges created by ObamaCare from using the coverage to pay for abortions.
The move is intended to employ the same definitions already in place for Medicaid — barring abortion coverage except in cases of rape, incest and imminent threat to the life of the woman.
Pennsylvania is one of 36 states that require that a woman’s life be in imminent danger before Medicaid will cover the procedure.
“Opponents say that it is unnecessary legislation, but similar bills have been passed by 20 other states and the federal exchanges specifically allow for this to be decided at the state level,” said Amy Hill, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which has been lobbying in favor of the legislation.
The exchanges are supposed to begin operating in 2014. They are intended to provide insurance company for self-employed people or those who work for businesses that do not offer health insurance to their employees. Eighty-seven percent of health insurance policies provided by private employers cover abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Clinic-based abortion costs between $300 and $900, according to Planned Parenthood.
Advocates are most concerned about situations in which a woman is hospitalized and ends up having an abortion due to medical problems, said Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Public Advocates.
There are situations where a woman could be faced with serious medical complications associated with pregnancy that may not be deemed an immediate threat to the woman’s life. If the full ban on abortion coverage through the exchanges becomes law, the woman would need to pay for that abortion, Stevens said.
“That could be a big, big bill,” Stevens said. “I am amazed at how cruel this bill is; there is no purpose to it. We are going to be hurting women and families,” Stevens said.
To get around the federal ban on government dollars going toward abortion, the ObamaCare rules would allow a woman to get abortion coverage through a separate premium payment. If the insurance company underestimates its costs for covering those abortions, the federal and state government would be barred from helping them make up the difference, Stevens said.
At the Catholic Conference, Hill said those funding barriers are insufficient.
“Without (the outright ban), every person enrolled (man or woman) in a plan within the exchange would be required to make a payment to fund elective abortion coverage for others,” she said.
Stevens said that because of the separation of abortion funding, the notion that the exchanges would be subsidizing abortions is “blatantly false.”
An amendment put forth by Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny County, would have ordered the state Insurance Department to calculate the “likely very small” share of the exchange’s administrative costs due to the abortion premiums. Under Frankel’s amendment, that cost would have been passed onto the women seeking abortion coverage.
“I believe women are adults who should be able to spend their money as they see fit,” Frankel said in a Facebook post. “Unfortunately, this common-sense amendment fell short” in the Republican-controlled House.
Frankel said that the legislation could be approved in the House as early as Monday.
With both the House and Senate in Republican control and Republican Tom Corbett as governor, Stevens said there appears to be a good chance that the ban will become law.
“I am very worried,” Stevens said.
Finnerty reports from Harrisburg for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.’s Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Meadville Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.