Colorado Republican senators argue against expanding maternity coverage

DENVER– State Senate Republicans today opposed a bill that aims to require insurance companies to provide individual-market plans that include maternity and contraception coverage. The bill passed a second reading with the support of Senate Democrats, but Republicans said it would drive up insurance rates and swell the ranks of the uninsured. One senator made an anti-abortion argument against the bill and one argued against it for personal financial reasons.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg
Sen. Kevin Lundberg

Senate sponsor Joyce Foster, D-Denver, defended HB 1021, saying the bill was long overdue.

“[Women] today can receive coverage if they are in group plans because there was a federal law in 1978 mandating that all group policies cover maternity care and contraceptive care, which came a little later… So now in 2010 I am here to say: It is time to do the right thing for our moms and babies and require that a majority of the plans on the individual market provide maternity care and that all of the plans provide contraceptive coverage.”

Foster said that there are roughly 130,000 women in the individual health insurance markets who can not buy maternity coverage because insurance companies consider pregnancy or even fertility a preexisting condition. Pointing to inadequacies that spin out of a bias toward men, she said that women can’t get coverage for maternity or basic reproductive care, but they “can receive prostate screening and care, because it is mandated.” Foster said all the bill attempts to do is make sure women looking to buy individual insurance plans– an expanding consumer category– have the same kind of basic options that women have who pay for group coverage, like those provided by employers.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, thought the thinking behind the bill was bad economics and would spur people to drop their insurance altogether.

“Do the math on what this is going to do to allow people to afford health insurance or not,” he said. “The cold hard reality is that every time you require something additional to medical insurance, you drive people out of the medical insurance market.”

Foster acknowledged that rates on the individual market might rise slightly, between 1 percent and 7 percent.

As the Colorado Independent has previously reported, women on the individual market in Colorado now can’t find any policies that might cover eventual pregnancy or prenatal care or childbirth services. Insurance agents told the Independent to pay out of pocket or extend expensive COBRA plans. They flatly recommended against alternative unreliable hodge-podge insurance products.

“Maternity benefits on the open market are crummy in Colorado,” one agent told the Independent. “It’s pitiful that it is that way.”

Most of the individual-market plans, however, do cover abortions.

The reality on the ground in Colorado, and one unacknowledged by the Republican lawmakers today, is that women without access to group health insurance plans, who struggle to pay for either contraception or maternity care, are pushed by economics toward abortion.

Yet Lundberg took issue with the fact that some contraception mandated by the bill works to dislodge fertilized eggs, a form of abortion. He seemed to be arguing that women buying health plans required to include contraception would also be indirectly supporting contraceptive abortifacients like IUDs and the “morning after” pill.

Looking to answer Lundberg’s line of argument before it got rolling, Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, said that according to Colorado Law abortifacients are not used to prevent a pregnancy and so are not considered contraceptives.

Lundberg wasn’t so sure. He said the definition of pregnancy in Colorado was unclear.

“Pregnancy means that point which the unborn child is implanted in the uterine wall– and that is several days after the biological beginning of that person,” he said. “The problem we have– and I am just explaining it… This bill says the insurance plans will be required to include contraceptives, which does include some devices and drugs that are abortifacient, if you consider the unborn child to have biologically begun three to five days before implantation in the uterine wall.

“That may seem like a little detail. But it is a moral repugnance to many people that Colorado law would require this to be mandated and that Colorado even defines pregnancy this way.”

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, disagreed with Lundberg’s interpretations. She viewed the bill as dealing with contraception not abortifacients. She did agree however that the bill was an unfair mandate on insurance companies.

“This is absolutely a contraception bill, not an abortion bill, but one that I can not support.”

Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, argued that he would support a bill that would require insurers to offer at least one plan with maternity coverage but not a bill that mandates a majority of plans to include maternity as Foster’s bill now does.

Foster said she amended the bill because insurance companies required to provide only one plan with maternity coverage simply make that one plan very expensive so no one buys i so they don’t have to cover the services. That kind of bill would simply maintain the status quo, she said.

Harvey didn’t see it that way.

“Why should the Harvey household have to pay for your mandate? If you want to pay for that care for other people, you pay for it. I don’t need to pay for it.”

He said the increases in insurance costs could force more Coloradans off the insurance rolls.

Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver , said that the bill was morally right, that women should enjoy the same kind of basic coverage men enjoy. He said that it was about a honoring the social contract. We are simply better off as a society when women have access to contraception and maternity coverage, he said.

“What we are saying is that in a social contract it is appropriate for us to speak for all people within the class equally and not to discriminate against them because they have different health conditions. “

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