On Jan. 22 we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the country. In Washington state, voters chose to legalize abortion even before the Supreme Court case, and we have a long history of supporting safe and legal abortion at the ballot as well as in the legislature.
Washingtonians understand that women need the freedom and privacy to make the health care decisions that are right for themselves and their families. However, the legal right to abortion is only half the battle: Real access to abortion includes the ability to pay for the procedure.
Due to the nature of pregnancy, the cost of an abortion increases as time passes. Denying insurance coverage for abortion is itself a limit on choice and access. Real choice can exist only when the decisions regarding a pregnancy are made without regard to cost or insurance. Thankfully, every insurance provider and nearly every insurance plan in Washington currently include abortion as a covered benefit, so most women with insurance have the access they need.
Starting Jan. 1, 2014, thousands of previously uninsured women will be able to purchase insurance on the Washington state insurance exchange, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Increasing the number of women and families who have access to health care is a major step forward in improving the health of everyone in Washington. But at the same time, restrictions included in the ACA make coverage for abortion more difficult.
The ACA will require that abortion coverage be sold as a rider on insurance, so a separate premium must be charged for the benefit. The premiums for the abortion rider must be segregated by the insurance company, and then benefits will be paid out of this separate account.
These requirements place a lot of additional burden on the insurance carriers and will add to their administrative costs. No one plans to have an abortion, in the same way no one plans to break a leg. Health insurance should include coverage for all our health care needs, not just the ones we plan. But we face a real threat if insurance carriers deem the rider too much of a hassle and just stop offering the benefit.
It would be a tragedy if, as a result of more Washingtonians having access to comprehensive health care, women who currently have coverage for abortion were to lose the benefits they currently have. That is exactly the opposite of improving health care.
To fix this problem, Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, and Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Vashon Island, have introduced the Reproductive Parity Act (RPA). This bill would require insurance plans that cover maternity care to also cover abortion services. It ensures that both newly insured women, as well as those who currently have quality health care ,continue to have all their reproductive health needs covered.
Passing the RPA will ensure that all women have the ability to make decisions for themselves and their families regardless of where they purchase their insurance. Passing the RPA is both in keeping with our long history of honoring women and families and an intelligent adaptation to our new 21st century health care system.
The RPA has already passed the House Health Care & Wellness Committee and soon will be voted on by the full House. We hope that Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, will uphold the rights of Washington women by allowing the RPA to come to a floor vote in the Senate.
This is the most important legislation impacting real access to reproductive health care in the state in 40 years. A total of 21 other states have banned abortion in some or all of their insurance markets, and Washington must act proactively to protect the access we have now. Without the RPA, abortion coverage may get harder and harder to find in Washington and may eventually become unavailable. That would mean coverage for abortion would be history.
Please contact your legislators asking for their support. We must act now if we want to guarantee that the values of Washington carry on and that abortion remains an important and covered part of health care.