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Bill for Medicaid, private coverage for abortion moves ahead

May 8, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A bill that would require Maine’s Medicaid program and private insurers to cover abortion moved ahead Tuesday in the Democrat-led Legislature.

The House voted 79-63 in favor of the bill Tuesday following hourslong debate. Democrats control the House 88-56, and the bill now heads to the Senate, led by Democrats 21-14.

Democrats buoyed by November wins called for health insurers who cover maternity services to include abortions and said Maine’s ban on state Medicaid funding for abortions discriminates against low-income people. Supporters cited testimony from domestic violence groups who said abusers can mislead low-income victims into pregnancies.

“We’ve created a system for those with the means to pay while slamming the door for those less fortunate,” said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Joyce McCreight. “It’s unfair and it’s discrimination.”

Maine’s bill has attracted opposition from a small group of Democratic lawmakers and Republicans, who argued that taxpayer-funded abortions are unjust and would lead to more abortions.

“We believe that individuals have the freedom to make their own choices,” said Republican Rep. Joshua Morris. “Why should we not expect them to pay for their own consequences?”

A decades-old federal law says states can use federal funds for only abortions that involve rape, incest or life endangerment.

Maine could join 15 states that allow the use of state Medicaid funds to pay for abortion in other circumstances, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation . Those states also don’t limit coverage of abortion in private insurance.

The bill calls for Maine to cover abortion services with “state funds within existing resources.” It would cost $375,000 to cover abortions through Maine’s Medicaid program annually, according to the amended bill’s fiscal note .

The bill wouldn’t provide new funding for such coverage and doesn’t address the effect of unfunded costs to other state programs.

Lawmakers are also weighing whether to expand Maine’s list of abortion providers.

The Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee on Tuesday voted on party-lines on Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ bill to allow nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse-midwives to perform abortions. The bill faces votes in the House and Senate.

Maine could follow California and become the second state with a law allowing such advanced clinicians to perform abortions, said Colleen McCarthy Reid, an Office of Policy and Legal Analysis legislative analysist assigned to the insurance committee.

Nearly two dozen other states have expanded their list of medication abortion providers following court or agency rulings, said Reid. A federal judge on Monday struck down a Virginia law that says only physicians can perform first-trimester abortions.

Maine’s bill would also allow certain non-doctors — depending on their training — to perform in-clinic abortions, which typically involve suction.

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