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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Providence to enter Washington insurance market in 2020, with limited abortion coverage

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Hospital in Spokane is seen on Sept. 2, 2009. Providence Health Plan will enter Washington’s health care exchange in 2020. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

Providence Health Plan will enter Washington’s health care exchange in 2020, becoming the first insurer in the state to invoke its religious principles to limit coverage for abortions.

The Catholic, Oregon-based insurer is affiliated with the Providence chain of hospitals, including Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital in Spokane.

According to the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, the company will offer three new insurance plans in Spokane, Clark, Thurston, Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties, giving it access to a significant share of the state’s individual market of about 241,000 people.

Providence already provides robust medical services in some of those areas. Clark County, home to Vancouver, is close to Providence Portland Medical Center. Spokane has Sacred Heart and Holy Family, and the Tri-Cities is home to the Providence-affiliated Kadlec Regional Medical Center.

For a 40-year-old nonsmoker in Spokane County, premiums for those plans will range from $348 to $500 per month. Rates will be higher in the other covered areas, with premiums as high as $547 for a 40-year-old nonsmoker in Clark County. Actual costs would be lower for low-income people who receive subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

“We’re pleased that Washingtonians will now have additional attractive options when shopping for health insurance coverage, and we are honored to be the health partner to people in communities across our state,” Providence spokeswoman Elizabeth DeRuyter said in a statement Thursday.

Providence previously offered insurance plans for small businesses in Washington in 2012 and 2013, said Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

The new plans mark the first time an insurer has invoked the “conscience clause” of a 2018 state law that requires coverage of abortions in most cases. The Reproductive Parity Act, which Democrats pushed through the Legislature last year, requires insurance plans that cover maternity care to also cover abortions and contraception.

Providence is using an exemption in the law. A proposal submitted to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner states: “Providence will not cover termination of pregnancy, unless there is a severe threat to the mother, or if the life of the fetus cannot be sustained. Providence has a religious objection to providing this service in other circumstances.”

For invoking the exemption, Providence is required to notify women that they should contact the family-planning division of the state Department of Health if they choose to seek an abortion that the Providence plan won’t cover.

Cynthia Harris, the manager of the family-planning program, said the Department of Health contracts with abortion providers across the state, including the Planned Parenthood clinics in Spokane and Spokane Valley, and reimburses them for the procedure with state funds at Medicaid rates.

In a statement, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said that before approving the plans, “we had to know how women selecting this insurer would access the critical reproductive services they might need and that Providence objected offering.”

DeRuyter, the Providence spokeswoman, said the company is committed to “the health and well-being of every patient we serve.”

“Each patient’s unique needs are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and all treatment decisions are made privately between our patients and their care teams,” she said. “Our practices and the services we offer have not changed.”

Providence’s move increases competition in the state’s individual market, making a total of nine companies that will sell health insurance next year. Open enrollment for 2020 policies will run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.