General Assembly repeals ban on abortion coverage through exchange plans

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RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia General Assembly passed two bills that repeal the ban keeping some health insurance plans sold in the state from covering abortions

House Bill 1896, introduced by Del. Sally L. Hudson, D-Charlottesville, and Senate Bill 1276, introduced by Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond, loosen restrictions through Virginia’s health insurance exchange. The exchange offers health insurance to approximately 270,000 Virginians who are self employed or don’t have access to insurance through employers, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Although the legislation will allow insurers to provide these services, it will not require them to do so.

The current restriction on abortion coverage through Virginia’s health insurance exchange was put in place in 2011 during Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell’s administration after the Affordable Care Act was passed. Federal funds can’t cover abortion costs due to the Hyde Amendment, except for specific circumstances.

“The current ban on providing abortion care for private insurance companies does nothing to promote or protect the health and safety of anyone - it’s purely politcally based,” said Rae Pickett, communications director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.

“Abortion is the only legal medical procedure that is prohibited by Virginia law from even being offered by private companies that sell plans through an exchange,” McClellan said during the bill’s committee hearing.

Jamie Lockhart, executive director at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, called the current ban the “ultimate government overreach.”

Advocates for the bill said banning abortion services through insurance companies disproportionately affects lower-income individuals, and the bill will allow access for more people to get needed care. Pickett said customers can currently choose a plan from the marketplace that fits their needs such as ones that offer different kinds of contraception.