Bills require health care insurers to offer women’s health care rider to all customers

LANSING – State Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) and state Representatives Pam Faris (D-Clio) and Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores) are introducing legislation to mandate that all health insurance companies that offer group and individual health care coverage must provide the option to purchase abortion service coverage. In December 2013, House and Senate Republicans passed a law banning health insurance companies in Michigan from covering abortion services unless a separate health insurance rider is purchased. Currently, only seven of the 42 health insurers in the state offer such a policy, and those that do only offer it as an add-on to an employer-provided plan and not for individual plans.

“This sexist and discriminatory law requires women to buy an extra insurance policy just to have comprehensive reproductive health care coverage, but does not require this separate policy to actually be sold,” Warren said. “As a result, the majority of women in Michigan cannot get full coverage. That’s why we’re introducing legislation to require any company that offers health insurance to make this extra rider available.”

Women in Michigan who buy insurance individually or on the health care exchange can’t buy this coverage, nor can women whose employers offer health insurance through any of the 35 health insurance companies in Michigan who don’t offer the rider.

“It is wrong to force women and employers to purchase extra insurance just so women can have comprehensive reproductive healthcare coverage. It is even worse when those policies aren’t even available for purchase,” Faris said.

“Without these riders, women who need medical help during a miscarriage, a complication or who need an abortion to save her health have to bear the cost themselves, which can cost thousands of dollars, and they will have to pay out-of-pocket.”

The new law requires women to buy or ask their employer to purchase the extra rider in case she may need insurance to pay for an “abortion.” However, medical billers often use the term “abortion” to apply to miscarriages as well as elective and inevitable abortions, meaning that women who need medical intervention will have to absorb that cost themselves. The law also makes no exceptions for a woman who needs necessary medical care because a fetus is malformed, has a genetic abnormality, her own health is at risk or because she became pregnant following a rape.

Beyond its harmful effect on women, the unjust law also threatens our state’s economy. Michigan struggles to maintain its highly educated young people once they finish college. Many professionals may seek employment in other states that have women-friendly policies. Law Students for Reproductive Justice will soon open up lines of communication with Michigan employers to urge them to make this policy available to their employees.

“As young professionals considering where we would like to begin our legal careers, we want to make sure employers and insurance companies know that we are paying attention to whether or not this coverage is available,” said Meredith Osborne, a member of Law Students for Reproductive Justice. “For both men and women, having access to the abortion rider is vital for the health of our families. Keeping current law students in the state of Michigan means providing this essential option.”

Rep. Roberts said the bills introduced this week are just a stopping point along the way to fully repealing the women’s health care rider law. “Make no mistake – our goal is to completely overturn this harmful and discriminatory law, so that women can make their own best health care choices without interference from those who believe women shouldn’t make their own health care decisions,” Roberts said. “But until we achieve that, the very least we can do is make sure this coverage is as accessible as possible.”