March 2, 2012 in Editorial, Opinion

Editorial: Fiscal issues more urgent than social issues now


The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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Every state-regulated health insurer in Washington must sell a plan that covers abortion services. That’s the law.

In fact, every health insurance plan sold in the state covers abortion. Every plan.

Individual conscience issues aside, for insurance companies, the bottom line is unequivocal; abortions are far less expensive than live births.

The state of Washington pays 100 percent of the cost for abortions sought by Medicaid clients. Normally, Medicaid service costs are split 50-50 with the federal government, but the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal money for abortions.

Employers who object to abortion for reasons of conscience can self-insure. Self-insurance plans are regulated at the federal level, where the Hyde prohibitions apply.

The amendment will also bar abortion in whatever insurance plan the federal government develops under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s health care reform plan. A measure that would have extended the prohibition to payment for contraception or any other care an employer found morally objectionable barely failed in the U.S. Senate on Thursday.

But in the first state to legalize abortion – three years before the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling – the debate over providing abortion services, and who will pay for them, would seemingly be over. Not so.

With state officials preparing for implementation of federal health care reform, pro-choice legislators are pushing House Bill 2330, which would require any health insurance plan sold in Washington that covers maternity care to also cover abortion services. The bill will die unless the Senate votes in favor by 5 p.m. today.

The sponsor, Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, says the measure is necessary to keep Washington at the forefront in defense of women’s reproductive rights.

Meanwhile, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is compiling the list of “essential services” that must be included in every health insurance plan sold by a company supervised by his office. Not surprisingly, abortion will be among the services covered.

Although opponents see hope in a recent ruling that struck down a state requirement that pharmacies provide Plan B or other emergency contraceptives, the fact that Washington health insurers voluntarily cover abortion likely negates recourse in the courts.

Why HB 2330 if abortion will be an essential service in Washington? The state-mandated services that take effect in 2014 will be superseded by federal mandates in 2017. Because the Hyde Amendment would block inclusion of abortion in the federal plans, Washington and other states may be preparing for a future court test.

A better question is why, when HB 2330 will have no immediate effect, has another cultural issue deflected attention away from Washington’s profound financial problems, and the so far unsatisfactory budgets proposed to fix them.

How about putting Washington in the forefront of fiscal responsibility.

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