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Health care & religion

Anti-abortion groups use insurance reform to restrict coverage

The Associated Press reports: "Abortion opponents fought passage of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul to the bitter end, and now that it's the law, they're using it to limit coverage by private insurers. An obscure part of the law allows states to restrict abortion coverage by private plans operating in new insurance markets. Capitalizing on that language, abortion foes have succeeded in passing bans that, in some cases, go beyond federal statutes. ... Since Obama signed the legislation law March 23, Arizona and Tennessee have enacted laws restricting abortion coverage by health plans in new insurance markets, called exchanges. About 30 million people will get their coverage through exchanges, which open in 2014 to serve individuals and small businesses. In Florida, Mississippi and Missouri, lawmakers have passed bans and sent them to their governors. Most of the states allow exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Insurers still could offer separate policies to specifically cover abortion. Three other states may act this year — Louisiana, Ohio and Oklahoma. Overall, there are 29 states where lawmakers or public policy groups expressed serious interest," said Mary Harned, attorney for Americans United for Life, a national organization that wrote a model law for the states (Alonso-Zaldivar, 5/16).

The Arizona Republic reports on a local abortion case: "A Catholic nun and longtime administrator of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix was reassigned in the wake of a decision to allow a pregnancy to be ended in order to save the life of a critically ill patient. The decision also drew a sharp rebuke from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Phoenix Diocese, who indicated the woman was 'automatically excommunicated' because of the action. … The actions involving the administrator, mostly taken within the past couple of weeks, followed a last-minute, life-or-death drama in late 2009. ... Sister Margaret McBride, who had been vice president of mission integration at the hospital, was on call as a member of the hospital's ethics committee when the surgery took place, hospital officials said. She was part of a group of people, including the patient and doctors, who decided upon the course of action. The patient was not identified, and details of her case cannot be revealed under federal privacy laws. … [The case] involved a serious illness, pulmonary hypertension. The condition limits the ability of the heart and lungs to function and is made worse, possibly even fatal, by pregnancy” (Clancy, 5/15).


The New York Times reports: "Health insurance companies are lobbying federal and state officials in an effort to ward off strict regulation of premiums and profits under the new health care law. The effort is, in some ways, a continuation of the battle over health care that consumed Congress last year. Insurance lobbyists are trying to shape regulations that will define 'unreasonable' premium increases and require them to pay rebates to consumers if the companies do not spend enough on patient care. For their part, consumer groups say they worry that their legislative victories could be undone or undercut by the rules being written by the federal government and the states" (Pear, 5/15).

In a separate story, the New York Times also looks at the head of one controversial insurer: "Angela F. Braly never hesitates to speak up for her company. In the last several months, Ms. Braly, the chief executive of WellPoint, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, has tangled with state regulators, Congress and the Obama administration over concerns that it charges customers too much or engages in questionable tactics to avoid paying claims. She’s even willing to take on President Obama himself. ... WellPoint, one of the companies that may have the most to lose under the new health care law, … seems unwilling — or unable — to avoid controversies that make it an easy target in Washington. In the last weeks of the debate over health care legislation, for example, WellPoint became the focus of lawmakers’ indignation over its decision to raise premiums in California as much as 39 percent. … Unlike some commercial insurers, WellPoint has bet heavily on the generous profits that flow from selling health insurance to individuals and small businesses. The company, which operates Blue Cross plans in more than a dozen states, is under pressure to deliver results under the new law, which sharply limits the prices it can charge and will eventually require it to cover all potential customers regardless of whether they have an expensive medical condition" (Abelson, 5/14).

The Columbus Dispatch reports: "The new health-reform law promises to penalize companies with more than 50 workers that don't provide employee health insurance. But the hit -- $2,000 a year per worker -- would cost less than providing health insurance. Some worry that employers would rather pay the fine than pay the insurance costs" (Hoholick, 5/16).

The Lynchburg (Va.) News and Advance reports: "With 120 employees in Central and Southside Virginia, Strategic Therapy Associates is too large to get a tax credit for providing health insurance for employees; it is too small to negotiate less expensive deals on its group health insurance premiums. One provision in the law could help the business, though: In 2014 insurance companies must put all small groups in one risk pool, spreading the costs of high usage. 'This has definitely been an issue for us in the past. We had one year when four employees were hospitalized,' [Laura] Blondino said in an e-mail Friday. '… That was the year that our insurance went up 33 percent.' Virginia employers large and small have started sifting through information to find out how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could affect the insurance they provide to employees and how much they pay. Much of that effect is still up in the air” (Gentry, 5/15).

The Washington Post reports: "Maybe you never will work as a nurse or a doctor because you get dizzy each time you see blood. Yet health care looks like a smart second career, especially with the health-care overhaul potentially pumping in millions of new customers -- and jobs. ... Health care grew even during the recession, when most other sectors were cutting jobs. The sector has added 244,000 jobs in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics" (Elmer, 5/16).

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent news service. It is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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