State Senate approves abortion insurance bill

OLYMPIA — The Senate has passed a measure that would require Washington state insurers offering maternity care to also cover elective abortions and contraception.

Senate Bill 6219 passed the chamber 26-22, with one Republican, Sen. Joe Fain, voting with majority Democrats on Wednesday, including Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim.

The measure now heads to the House, where it passed in previous years before stalling when the Senate was controlled by Republicans.

In addition to linking abortion coverage with maternity care, the bill would require health plans issued or renewed after Jan. 1, 2019, to provide copayment- and deductible-free coverage for all contraceptive drugs and devices, as well as voluntary sterilization and any consultations or other necessary procedures.

Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs, the bill’s sponsor, said the measure’s components “should be part of basic women’s primary health.”

“No woman should have to seek or pay for an additional rider or copay or have any other means of delay or financial burden for this coverage,” he said.

The Senate rejected several Republican amendments, including one that would have granted exemptions for employers opposed to abortion.

“The underlying bill forces those of us who believe abortion takes a life to pay for people making that decision, and that is very troubling,” said Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner.

A long-standing federal provision known as the Hyde amendment prohibits the use of federal money to pay for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother, and insurers on the state’s health exchange have to create separate accounts that segregate premium payments for abortion services from premiums for everything else.

Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman with the Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, said that all plans but those offered by one company already offer full coverage for abortion services in the state.

She said in an email that Health Alliance Northwest Health Plan — which sells outside of the state exchange in three counties — is the only insurer that has restrictions on coverage for pregnancy termination, covering the procedure only in cases where the life of the mother is in danger, the fetus cannot live outside of the uterus, or in the case of rape or incest.

A spokeswoman for the health plan would not comment on the passage of the bill beyond saying that the group is watching its progress.

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