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Most Typical Health Plans Found to Cover Abortion : Reform: The study of private insurers may help further efforts to include procedure in legislation. Coverage is called key part of basic women's care.

March 10, 1994|MARLENE CIMONS and KAREN TUMULTY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — In an almost certain boost for efforts to include routine abortion coverage in health care reform, a study released Wednesday found that two-thirds of typical health plans cover abortion and about nine of 10 cover sterilization.

The study of private insurance coverage of reproductive health services, conducted by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive health research organization, also showed that many of these same plans do not cover contraceptive services, a finding "clearly in line with the traditional bias of health insurance against preventive care," said Jeannie I. Rosoff, president of the institute.

Rosoff testified at a hearing of the Senate Labor and Human Resources subcommittee on aging on the impact of health reform on women's health care. The results of the study were released at the hearing.

Rosoff noted that many plans place restrictions on abortion coverage by requiring a physician to certify that the abortion is medically necessary. Nevertheless, the findings are expected to further attempts to keep abortion coverage as a guaranteed benefit in whatever health reform plan emerges from Congress.

"There are those who will try to play politics with these issues and argue that abortion should not be included in the benefits package," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who attended the hearing at the invitation of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who chairs the subcommittee.

"We are not talking about providing women with a 'new benefit.' We are not talking about providing them with additional coverage," Boxer said. "We are talking about offering women the same coverage and benefits that they already receive from most private health insurers."

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Congressional Women's Caucus abortion rights task force, said the study proves that "abortion coverage is currently the norm" and that it is "an integral component of basic women's health care."

But Douglas Johnson, federal legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee Inc., said that abortion rights groups are trying to "hijack health care reform to dramatically expand abortion services and force all Americans to pay the bill through mandatory 'premiums' and other taxes."

In a statement, Johnson accused the institute of pro-abortion bias and emphasized that "whatever private abortion coverage currently exists is the result of free decisions in the marketplace by insurers, employers and/or consumers of insurance--not of any federal mandate."

In other health reform-related activities, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton made her first trip to Capitol Hill in several weeks for an informal lunch with a group of Democratic senators.

Her purpose was to build morale on all sides at a time when the health care plan is facing rough going in Congress. She will be making a similar appearance before a group of House Democrats today.

Elsewhere on the Hill, the House Ways and Means health subcommittee trudged through a second day of its laborious effort to approve its own health bill.

The subcommittee, the first in Congress to start work on a health care bill, spent the day considering an initial draft offered by its chairman, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Oakland). Stark's bill embraces Clinton's goal of universal coverage, but achieves it by expanding the Medicare program to cover the uninsured. Voting is not expected to begin until next week.

At the same time, thousands of tobacco workers and smokers marched past the White House to Capitol Hill to protest President Clinton's proposed 75-cents-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes to help finance his health care package.

The Guttmacher study, funded by the independent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was based on a 1993 survey of the 100 largest commercial insurance companies, all 73 of the nation's Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans and 213 health maintenance organizations. More than half of the plans responded, the institute said.

The study found that nearly 90% of typical plans routinely cover surgical sterilization, and two-thirds routinely cover abortion.

The remaining one-third either do not cover abortion at all or restrict coverage.

About half of the large commercial and Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans do not cover any reversible contraceptive method and only 15% cover all five of the most effective medical methods, the study said. Only one-third cover oral contraceptives, the study said.

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