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State Senate Democrats Hold Briefing On the Reproductive Parity Act

Today, a combination of Washington State Senate and House Democrats will hold a briefing on the Reproductive Parity Act (RPA) in coalition with women’s rights and civil liberties groups. The briefing is scheduled for 2 p.m. in Senate Hearing Room 1 at the Capitol.

With two weeks left in the legislative session and no official Senate hearing scheduled for the RPA, Senate Democratic leaders have taken the lead in working to educate their colleagues on Washington’s shifting health care landscape, and key changes that have occurred since the RPA was last introduced. Presenters at the briefing will include concerned consumers, stakeholders within the insurance industry, health care providers, and others.

In a year when Washington State and the nation face unprecedented changes to our health care systems, passage of legislation like the RPA is critical to ensuring that access to reproductive health care is maintained and expanded, say women’s rights and civil liberties groups.

"At least one carrier on the state health benefit exchange dropped abortion coverage in 2013, and consumers faced confusion about coverage on other plans,” said Rachel Berkson, executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. "This is just one of many health care changes we’ve seen, and real-world proof that we need the RPA. It’s time to have a serious conversation about access to abortion in our state, and we appreciate the steps our Senate leaders have taken to get the ball rolling.”

Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, echoed Berkson’s appreciation for the Senate Democrats’ decision to take matters into their own hands, saying, "We’ve been hearing from women all across the state this session who are anxious for the legislature to pass the RPA, and finally at least one part of the State Senate is listening. While we welcome this meeting, it’s important to remember that giving an opportunity for women’s voices to be heard is not the last step, it’s just the first step. We continue to call on the Majority Caucus to bring this up for a vote on the floor.”

Advocates also emphasized the bill’s public support among their constituencies, and its consistency with Washington’s record on reproductive choice.

"Washington State has always been a leader in health care reform and reproductive health.  It is deeply disappointing that the RPA has not progressed this year,” said Lisa Stone, Legal Voice Executive Director. "This sends a message to Washington women that our physical and economic health are not matters of paramount importance worth protecting through our laws.”

 "Our state has a strong tradition of providing legal protections for reproductive freedom, and we need to continue doing so,” added Shankar Narayan, legislative director for the ACLU of Washington. "With health care reform being implemented, we need the Reproductive Parity Act more than ever to keep reproductive freedom a reality in Washington.”
State House of Representatives Passes Reproductive Parity Act


Olympia, WA – Today, the State House of Representatives passed the Reproductive Parity Act (RPA), which would protect access to comprehensive reproductive health care in Washington by requiring that insurance companies that cover maternity care also cover abortion. The legislation passed with a vote of 54-44 and now moves on to the State Senate, where in 2013 the Republican-controlled Majority Coalition Caucus refused to allow a floor vote despite claims of bipartisanship and moderation.

"We’re grateful to our allies in the House for supporting the Reproductive Parity Act,” said Rachel Berkson, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. "We’ve heard from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner that at least two plans through the state exchange don’t cover elective abortion, and there’s confusion surrounding more. This is what happens without the RPA in place to protect access to care. We appreciate that our representatives in the House stand with women, and we urge the Senate to show that they do too.”

Among the Majority Coalition Caucus are Majority Leader Rodney Tom and Senator Steve Litzow, both of whom have repeatedly blocked the RPA from coming to a vote,despite previous public declarations of support for the bill.

The House passage arrives days after NARAL Pro-Choice Washington hosted their annual Reproductive Health & Rights Lobby Day in Olympia on February 3, in collaboration with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. Almost 300 activists traveled to the State Capitol to meet with their elected representatives and urge them to support the RPA.

The bill was first introduced in 2012, with strong backing from the public and repeated support from the House. But the State Senate has failed to pass the RPA over two legislative sessions. Now, with insurance companies failing to cover abortion in their plans through the new State Health Benefit Exchange,the need to pass the RPA is urgent and clear.

Reproductive privacy and freedom are values that Washington State has affirmed at the legislative level since before Roe v. Wade was decided 41 years ago. Passing commonsense legislation like the RPA is crucial in ensuring that women in Washington State maintain access to the care that they need, and as attacks on women’s health escalate nationwide, Washington must lead with nation with strong legislation that protects women’s health.

Contact: Megan Burbank, Communications Director, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, (206) 227-1825

Office of the Insurance Commissioner Reports Additional Exchange Plans May Exclude Abortion Coverage

Through a number of messages over the past two days, the Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) has reported to legislators and other stakeholders that there may be additional insurance plans on the State Health Benefit Exchange that have dropped coverage for abortion. While at this point it is not clear how many plans may exclude abortion, this very confusion underscores the necessity of passing the Reproductive Parity Act (RPA).

Furthermore,this means it’s critical that people purchasing insurance on the Exchange confirm that their plans have the coverage they need and want.

"This confusion over what plans cover abortion is perfect evidence of why Washington women need the Reproductive Parity Act,” said Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. "Only the Reproductive Parity Act can truly solve this problem and provide clarity to women about the equitable coverage they need so they can make the private pregnancy decisions that are best for themselves and their families.”

"With over 100,000 Washingtonians already signed up for coverage through the Exchange, confusion over abortion coverage is especially troubling,” said Rachel Berkson, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. "It’s possible women are already signed up for plans that now won’t cover the care they need. We’re disappointed, but if anything, this shows that we need to hold insurers accountable to women bypassing the Reproductive Parity Act.”

This week, OIC notified members of the legislature that upon reviewing "several” of the Exchange plans, they had "learned that voluntary termination is not covered by some of the plans.” They added, "It seems that many were left with the impression that only the Group Health plans failed to cover voluntary termination.” OIC then listed which plans they believe do or do not cover abortion.

The OIC has updated its information on coverage of abortion in plans on the Exchange several times over the past two days, adding to the confusion around this issue. Analysis of each plan using publicly available information on the Exchange website, as well as statements from some of the insurance carriers that they do actually provide abortion coverage, indicate that the list from OIC may still be evolving. Additionally,insurance carriers may have different abortion coverage standards for different plans. At this point it appears to be difficult if not impossible for consumers to accurately determine which plans are excluding abortion coverage. Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, Legal Voice, and the ACLU of Washington calling on state officials to provide accuracy and transparency on abortion coverage.

"Women will not be able to figure out if their abortion is covered until the RPA becomes law,” said Lisa M. Stone, Executive Director of Legal Voice. ”Insurance has always been confusing for consumers; this just makes it worse.”

"Washington voters have passed laws to protect reproductive freedom. Reproductive rights should not be undermined by insurance rules and health care regulations,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, more than 300,000 women in Washington are gaining insurance coverage. The promise of health care reform was that women would have more access to health care, not less. But administrative burdens put in place when the Affordable Care Act was passed give insurance carriers incentive to drop coverage for abortion. The Reproductive Parity Act would ensure every insurance plan that covers maternity care also covers abortion. Families are counting on their new healthcare coverage to help in tough economic times, and abortion coverage is no exception.

CONTACT: Megan Burbank, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, (206) 624-1990

New Department of Health Action on Religious Hospital Mergers Doesn't Go Far Enough To Protect Patient Access
On Monday, December 23rd code rule revision that will subject all hospitals that are being taken over by another hospital to the DOH’s Certificate of Need review process and require hospitals to reveal their policies on issues such as reproductive and end-of-life care. While this step will increase transparency around hospital mergers, more action is needed to ensure that patients have access to key medical services without religiously based restrictions.
"We are pleased with this initial step forward to improve transparency, but it’s clear that far more comprehensive solutions are needed to protect all Washingtonians’ access to care,” said Jennifer Allen, Director of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. "We call on the Governor and the state of Washington to ensure that publicly funded hospitals provide access to a full range of care.”
The new rules come in response to concerns around a record number of mergers between secular and religious healthcare systems in Washington. Soon half of all hospital beds in the state could be owned or controlled by Catholic-affiliated health care systems, compromising patients’ access to services that Catholic-affiliated hospitals do not allow, including comprehensive reproductive healthcare, end-of-life care for the elderly and terminally ill, and compassionate care for LGBT families. Without an
accountability mechanism or regulations on hospital restrictions on services, the new rule changes do not ensure that patients will maintain access to the care they need.
"Significant changes are necessary to ensure that religious restrictions do not limit patients' access to best care medical services," said Leah Rutman, ACLU-WA Policy Counsel. "A comprehensive review and revision of state health regulatory regimes and programs is necessary to ensure that the State of Washington is upholding its significant responsibility to provide access to affordable medically appropriate health care to all its residents."
"We appreciate the work that the Governor and the Department of Health have done, but the new disclosure regulations do not go far enough to protect patient access,” said Rachel Berkson, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. "If we want to address potential gaps in access to care, we need to look for some more solutions.”
Ensuring that the public is aware of religious restrictions in hospitals is not affective on its own. To fill the potential gap in access, the Department of Health must publicize which hospitals are constrained and specify what their restrictions are, and provide practical, appropriate alternatives for patients who need access.
CONTACT: Megan Burbank, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, (206) 227-1825
NARAL Pro-Choice Washington listed among The Stranger's "Smartest People in Seattle Politics"

In the Nov. 13 issue of the Stranger, staff writers covered local activists, organizations, and policymakers they consider the "true political geniuses...bringing policy to the table and suturing it to the flesh and bones of our city," and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington made the list. Check out our coverage below (emphasis ours), and read the whole thing for a look into city politics at its best. 
"The ladies of NARAL canvass rural Washington educating women on crisis pregnancy centers (religious anti-abortion clinics masquerading as medical clinics). They run an abortion access network that connects red state and rural women, who must come to Seattle for abortions, with volunteers offering housing, emotional support, and transportation. And right now, they’re helping combat Catholic hospital mergers—which could restrict women’s access to things like birth control, tubal ligations, and abortion—by working on an interactive map of all Washington hospitals showing exactly what procedures they provide. Kick-ass."

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