A proposal to make health insurance carriers in Washington include abortions in their maternity coverage has ground to a halt in a legislative committee headed by an Eatonville-area state senator who called it “a solution in search of a problem.”
After a hearing April 1 by the Senate Health Care Committee on House Bill 1044, Sen. Randi Becker, the committee’s chairwoman, said the legislation wouldn’t be forwarded to the full Senate, meaning there won’t be a vote on whether to approve it during the 2013 session of the Legislature.
The abortion mandate bill, as it came to be known after originating and being passed in the House of Representatives, doesn’t appear to be needed and could cause the state to lose federal funding for healthcare, Becker said.
Proponents of the bill claimed that once certain parts of the federal Affordable Care Act go into effect in January 2014, insurance carriers in Washington that currently cover abortions could raise premiums or stop covering abortions. The Legislature needed to head off that possibility, said HB 1044 backers.
Federal funds are prohibited by law from being used for abortions. A federally regulated health plan that wouldn’t cover abortions is slated to start in 2017.
“There are those inside and outside the Legislature who view the bill as unnecessary and some who remain concerned that it would violate” federal regulations, Becker said. She noted five members of Washington’s congressional delegation sent her a letter warning “that if this bill were to pass, it would jeopardize federal healthcare funds” for the state.
The federal concerns, plus the general acknowledgement that health insurers in Washington already cover abortions, weakened any arguments for the abortion mandate legislation, according to Becker.
“The fact is that at this point, House Bill 1044 is a solution in search of a problem,” she said.
Supporters of the bill included Governor Jay Inslee, who praised the House for passing it as “a big step forward in guaranteeing women’s access to a full range of reproductive healthcare services.”
Before their vote in March, representatives heatedly debated points such as a claim by bill opponents that insurance policyholders with moral objections to abortion would dislike paying premiums that provide for the procedure.
“Everyone knows that this is a difficult, emotional issue for many people,” Becker said. “If our state were to pass this bill, we would be the only one in the nation to require private insurance plans to pay for abortion. I feel it is only prudent to ensure that the bill is necessary and would not have unintended consequences.”