Lawmakers repeal ban on abortion coverage through state exchange plans


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RICHMOND, Va. (VCU CNS) – The Virginia General Assembly has passed two bills that repeal the ban preventing some health insurance plans sold in the state from covering abortions.

House bill 1896, presented by Del. Sally L. Hudson, D-Charlottesville, and Senate Bill 1276, presented by Senator Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond, eases restrictions through Virginia Health Insurance Exchange. The exchange offers health insurance to around 270,000 Virginians who are self-employed or do not have access to insurance through employers, according to te Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

While the law allows insurers to provide these services, it will not require them to do so.

The current restriction on abortion coverage through the Virginia Health Insurance Scholarship was put in place in 2011 under the administration of Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell after the Affordable Care Act was passed. Federal funds cannot cover abortion costs due to the Hyde Amendment except in specific circumstances.

“The current ban on providing abortion care to private insurance companies does nothing to promote or protect anyone’s health and safety – it is purely political,” said Rae Pickett, director of communications for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.

“Abortion is the only legal medical procedure that is prohibited by Virginia law, even offered by private companies that sell plans through an exchange,” McClellan said at the project committee hearing of law.

Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, called the current ban “the government’s ultimate overshoot.”

Supporters of the bill have said that banning abortion services through insurance companies disproportionately affects low-income people, and the bill will allow more people to obtain the necessary care. Pickett said clients can currently choose a plan on the market that matches their needs, such as those that offer different types of contraception.

“Abortion should be the same,” Pickett said.

The federal medicare market is typically used by low-income people who struggle to afford health care, “especially women, transgender people, and people of non-binary color,” according to one. Press release of the Foundation of the Feminist Majority. The Virginia-based nonprofit advocates and organizes women’s rights, including reproductive rights.

Nearly 80% of Virginians support legal access to abortion, according to a survey commissioned last year by the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition. The election of more pro-choice candidates and the Democratic seizure of both chambers led to the introduction and passage of more progressive legislation. Lawmakers have been pushing for the withdrawal of abortion services for years. Votes on both measures were along party lines.

Opponents of the legislation fear the measures “grease the cogs” of public funding for abortion. Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, is concerned that a repeal of the Hyde Amendment by the Democratic-majority Congress could result in the use of public funds to fund abortions. Turner said Virginians might be in favor of legal abortion, but there is “strong opposition to taxpayer funding for elective abortions.”

Turner said the Virginia Society for Human Life is concerned that it will become difficult to find a plan on the market that does not include abortion services. Passing the bill could result in more expensive plans for consumers as more services would be covered, Turner said.

W. Bruce Vogel, associate professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics at the University of Florida, specializes in health care economics. He expects the law to have limited impact since only a small fraction of users of the health insurance market have abortions within a year.

“Perhaps more worrying is whether a low-income pregnant woman can foot the bill out of pocket in the absence of insurance coverage,” Vogel said in an email. “Beyond the first trimester, the costs of abortion can run into the thousands of dollars, and that’s a big hurdle if you’re poor.”

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