MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Abortions would no longer be covered by health insurance plans for Wisconsin state employees under a Republican-backed bill working its way through the Legislature.
It’s unclear whether the measure, which didn’t have enough Republican support to pass in 2013 but was up for an Assembly committee hearing Wednesday, will get through the Legislature this year, even with its stronger GOP majorities. And even if it does pass, the impact of such a ban could be minimal.
That’s because the state currently requires health plans to cover only therapeutic abortions for its members. How those are defined is left up to the health plan, but they generally are only those considered to be medically necessary, said Nancy Ketterhagen, spokeswoman for the Department of Employee Trust Funds, which administers state worker benefits.
The state doesn’t know how many abortions are covered currently because that information is not collected, she said.
The bill would build upon current abortion restrictions in state law. It is already illegal for abortions to be paid for through the state’s Medicaid program or on plans sold through state exchanges established under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Still, anti-abortion groups support the measure and Planned Parenthood and the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health oppose it.
The 2013 bill banning state health insurance coverage of most abortions passed the Assembly but died in the Senate due to opposition from Democrats and indifference from Republican leaders.
Gov. Scott Walker in 2013 did not make the bill a priority and Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach promised “all out hell” if it and other anti-abortion measures were brought up.
“Governor Walker is focused on Wisconsin’s economy and getting the state budget done,” his spokesman Tom Evenson said Wednesday, echoing his comments from four years ago. “The governor believes in protecting the sanctity of life.”
The Republican majority in the Senate is larger now — they have a seven-seat advantage compared to just three in 2013 — and the bill’s backers are hoping that will ease its passage. Eight of the Senate’s 20 Republicans are signed on as co-sponsors.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman Myranda Tanck did not immediately reply to a message. Fitzgerald did not schedule the bill in the 2013 session.
Under the proposal, the state’s Group Insurance Board would be prohibited from entering into a contract for health insurance that provides abortion services.
The prohibition would also exist if the state moves to a self-insurance model, as Walker is proposing. The only exceptions would be in cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother is at risk.
Republican state Rep. Andre Jacque, of De Pere, is lead sponsor of the bill in the Assembly.
Twenty-one other states already have similar laws.
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