Is the D.C. government funding abortions?
This afternoon, a House Judiciary subcommittee is holding a hearing on H.R. 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act." Not only does the bill restrict federal funding for abortion, it also aims to ban the District from spending its local funds on abortion services.
Only since 2009 has Congress allowed the District government to use its local funds on abortions, as many states do. But has the elimination of the funding restriction actually resulted in government-financed abortions for low-income women?
Yes, it has, but slowly.
Women who are enrolled in the District's health plans for low-income residents under the Medicaid and the D.C. HealthCare Alliance programs currently have coverage for abortion services. The change was effective Aug. 1, 2010, for residents covered under plans run by D.C. Chartered Health, Unison and HSCSN.
Lisa Truitt, interim associate director for managed care at the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance, said that while Medicaid covers a portion of most of the health expenses incurred by the District's poorest residents, abortions are reimbursed fully by the District.
The plan administrators, Truitt said, sent letters to their enrollees last year informing them that abortions were covered. New enrollees, she said, will see abortion included on a provided list of covered services.
But are the women in the plans taking advantage of the services?
A brief survey of abortion providers in the District indicates that not all are billing city-funded plans.
Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, perhaps the area's best-known abortion provider, will begin accepting District-funded plans for abortions starting Feb. 14, said CEO Laura Meyers.
Planned Parenthood has long accepted District-funded plans for the many non-abortion services that its clinics provide, Meyers said, but low-income women seeking abortions had to pay out of pocket -- perhaps with assistance from charities such as the D.C. Abortion Fund.
But at least one doctor, Nathan Bobrow, has been accepting District-funded plans for abortions for months. Fatima Hinton, clinical office manager for Bobrow, said that women appear to be well aware of their new coverage and that the office has gotten "quite a few calls and made quite a few appointments" for Chartered, Unison or HSCSN enrollees. "They must have good knowledge of it," Hinton said.
Bobrow's office is on the Washington Hospital Center campus. There is also a Women's and Infants' Clinic there, run by the hospital, that occasionally performs abortions, mostly related to fetal genetic issues. WHC accepts the Chartered and Unison plans, a hospital spokesman said.
Truitt said that the city has been processing billings for abortions, but she was not immediately able to say how many.
Meyers of Planned Parenthood expressed concern at the House proposal to end local funding, saying it might cause pregnant low-income women to delay treatment with "devastating" effects. And she was not shy about expressing a political argument against the move: "This is an attack on home rule for the District of Columbia," Meyers said, calling it part of a "disturbing trend" of congressional intervention.
| February 8, 2011; 5:17 PM ET
Categories: The District
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