LANSING, Michigan — A new Michigan law requiring residents or businesses that want health insurance coverage for abortions to buy extra coverage will remain intact despite opponents' initial hopes to overturn it at the ballot box this year.
When the measure goes into effect Thursday — three months after its contentious passage — many newly issued or renewed health plans will be prohibited from paying for elective abortion services unless an inexpensive supplemental policy is purchased. Seven of the state's 45 insurers, including giant Blue Cross Blue Shield, will sell the abortion riders to small and large employers, according to the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services.
The cost ranges from 1 cent to 32 cents per month per individual, agency spokesman Caleb Buhs said.
An estimated 3 million of the state's nearly 10 million residents are unaffected by the law because they work for self-insured employers who pay directly for medical care and are regulated by the federal and not state government.
One impetus behind the law is to keep taxpayer-subsidized plans on Michigan's new insurance marketplace from covering abortions, except when a woman's life is at risk. But it also applies to private plans sold outside the exchange.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed similar legislation in 2012, calling it an interference with the private marketplace and saying it would have been inappropriate to tell a rape or incest victim that she needs to have extra insurance to terminate her pregnancy. He had no veto power a year later, however, when Right to Life of Michigan gathered more than 300,000 signatures for a citizens' initiative approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Though incensed Democrats and abortion-rights advocates have abandoned talk of a 2014 ballot measure, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, announced on Wednesday the formation of Right to Health, a nonprofit organized under section 501(c)3 of the tax code. Through the group, she plans to travel the state this election year to raise awareness about the "rape insurance" law.
"Our path to create that change here in Michigan is a tough one, but we've got to start now by standing up, speaking out and demanding better," she said in a video launching the effort, which could pave the way toward a possible 2016 ballot initiative.
Whitmer, who in speaking against the legislation in December disclosed that she had been raped years before, said she will continue sharing her story and ask others to do the same. She said "most" women cannot buy a rider because insurers and employers can choose not to offer the coverage.
Of the roughly 23,000 reported abortions in Michigan in 2012, health insurance covered 739, or 3.3 percent, according to state statistics.
Low-income women on Medicaid already must pay out of pocket for abortions except when their lives are at risk or in cases of rape or incest. Other women getting abortions are uninsured or their insurance does not cover abortions. Others have plans that allow abortions, but they might not want their employers or families to find out.
"It does bring a peace of mind, knowing that our health insurance premiums or tax dollars in the way of subsidies ... won't go toward abortion," said Right to Life spokeswoman Pam Sherstad. "Even though it's subtle it's a significant change for health care in Michigan."
Michigan is the 24th state to opt out of covering abortions on the health exchange, an option under the federal health care law. It is the 10th to restrict private plans from covering the procedure, though Rhode Island's law is not in effect.
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