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Pa. bill would ban abortion in exchange coverage

RightMarch February 26, 2013

Tim Darragh at The Morning Call reports:

Women in Pennsylvania who use the health insurance exchange to be established under the federal health care reform law would not have coverage for abortion even if their health was at stake, according to a bill under consideration in Harrisburg.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Donald C. White, R-Indiana, would prohibit coverage for abortions in insurance provided through exchanges, except in cases of rape, incest and the threat of imminent death of the mother.

White’s Chief of Staff Joe Pittman said that even though the health insurance to be purchased in the exchanges is with a private company, abortion should be excluded because the exchanges are being established with government funding. Additionally, low-income buyers will qualify for government subsidies, creating a more direct tie between taxpayer money and abortion.

“What we’re proposing is nothing different than is already current practice with government subsidized insurance in Pennsylvania,” said Joe Pittman, White’s chief of staff.

The bill is in the senate Banking and Insurance Committee, of which White is chairman. Pittman noted that the bill passed the senate in the session that ended last year, but did not get to the full House of Representatives for a vote. He said there is no timetable for action on the bill in this session.

Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, a member of the committee, said she agrees that abortion coverage should not be provided using any government money. However, if private coverage simply funnels through the exchange, abortions should be covered, she said.

“If you’re paying for health insurance on your own why would you exclude abortions?” Boscola said.

During discussion of the bill last year, Boscola said she could not get a straight answer about whether taxpayer money would be used to cover abortions. The exchanges are being set up with federal money, but are expected to be self-sustaining by 2015.

Attempts to reach Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, also a member of the committee, were unsuccessful.

If the bill passes, Pennsylvania would join at least 20 other states in prohibiting abortion coverage through its exchange. Maria Vitale Gallagher, legislative director for the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, said White’s bill would apply even though the federal government is going to operate the exchange in Pennsylvania.

The bill is simply “confirming the long-standing policy of Pennsylvania to not use public funds to pay for abortion,” she said.

Abortion-rights advocates said the bill would not allow coverage for abortions when a woman’s health was at risk, if not near death. “There are many, many, many situations that can arise where the health of the mother can be severely at stake, ” said Kim Custer, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northeast, Mid-Penn and Bucks County. “That’s a time when a woman should be able to make those choices” to continue or end the pregnancy.

The bill, if enacted into law, would be a government intrusion into a private transaction between an individual and her insurer, Custer added.

Further, the federal health care law, also known as Obamacare, requires insurers that offer abortion through an exchange to set up separate accounts — one for money used to cover abortion services and the other for all other covered health care. That, said Planned Parenthood’s Director of Public Affairs Heather Shumaker, makes White’s bill “largely unnecessary.”


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