Wash. Proposal Would Require Private Insurers To Offer Abortion Coverage

January 9, 2011 — A legislative proposal in Washington state would require private health plans to provide abortion coverage if they also cover maternity care, the Seattle Times reports. Health insurance plans funded or administered by the state already must include coverage for abortion under Initiative 120, which voters approved in 1991. The initiative also guarantees women the right to an abortion.

The state has used its own funding to cover abortion care for Medicaid beneficiaries because federal law bans the use of federal funding for abortion care. Stephanie Marquis, a spokesperson for the state Insurance Commissioner's Office, said it is unclear how many private insurers already cover abortion in the state. Of the 24,279 abortions in 2008, about 50% were publicly funded.

State Rep. Eileen Cody (D) and other supporters say the legislation is needed to maintain the current standard of abortion coverage in Washington. Sen. Steve Hobbs (D), one of the proposal's sponsors, said, "We're not talking about ending a health care benefit, or adding one that is not already there. It is ensuring what is already there." Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and Legal Voice all support the proposal.

Possible Conflict With Federal Health Reform Law

The draft proposal comes amid concerns about how the federal health reform law (PL 111-148) could affect abortion coverage in the state, the Times reports. Under the law, the state must establish a health insurance exchange and at least one of the plans in the exchange cannot offer abortion coverage.

Jonathan Seib, a health policy adviser for Gov. Chris Gregoire (D), noted that the state is set to receive federal funding for the exchange and that the federal ban on funding for abortion could conflict with Initiative 120 if plans offered through the exchange are considered to be administered by the state. Seib said it is possible that the federal government might withhold some funding for the exchange (Martin/Ostrom, Seattle Times, 1/5).