Whatever you may think about health care reform, we can all agree that our federal government made history last night when the House of Representatives passed legislation that promises to improve access to health care for millions of Americans. The potential for this legislation is great and should be celebrated.
Unfortunately, the struggle for health care reform came at a very high price for women’s reproductive health. Yes, the legislation includes some real gains: more women will be able to get family planning services, prenatal and maternity care, and life-saving screenings for cervical and breast cancer, among other critical reproductive health services. But when it comes to women being able to access abortion care, another kind of history was made.
Despite all our efforts to ensure that health care reform did not undermine women’s ability to get the full range of reproductive health services, in the end, the reform package includes an arbitrary and burdensome requirement that stigmatizes abortion and creates hurdles for both the insurer that wants to include abortion care in its health plan and the insured who wants the coverage. The legislation requires anyone in the new health insurance exchange who purchases an insurance plan that covers abortion to write two separate checks — one to pay for the cost of the abortion services and another to pay for the rest of the covered care. Not only that, President Obama has announced that he will issue an executive order that further limits that the federal money authorized by the legislation cannot be used to pay for abortion coverage.
What all of this means for real women is not yet clear. From a business perspective, some insurers have indicated that the two-check requirement may be too costly. If that’s the case, insurers may not offer abortion coverage period. As a result, the new legislation could leave women with nothing to fall back on, and we know women need this coverage. No woman plans an unplanned pregnancy. No woman expects to hear that her baby will not survive the pregnancy. No woman wants to hear that continuing a pregnancy will seriously threaten her health. Insurance is meant to be there for us in life’s most difficult situations: those we don’t anticipate and when we are most in need. The new health care package may fall far short of meeting a critical health care need when it comes to abortion care.
While our federal government made history last night, there is still more history to be made. More than 30 years ago, Congress passed a measure — known as the Hyde Amendment — barring, with few exceptions, federal funding of abortion care for low-income women who get their health care through Medicaid. Similar measures restrict federal funding for abortion for others who depend on the federal government for their health care, including Native Americans, federal employees and their dependents, Peace Corps volunteers, federal prisoners, military personnel and their dependents, and disabled women who rely on Medicare. It is time to stop adding to this list of people denied coverage, and it is high time to lift all of these restrictions on abortion coverage.
Abortion care is part of basic health care for women. It is not up to politicians or insurance companies to make our medical decisions for us. We need to commit ourselves to not only removing the abortion coverage restrictions from the new federal health insurance plan, but to reversing decades of discrimination and political interference in women’s reproductive health decisions.