Blue Cross changes OK'd without abortion provision

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 21, 2013 at 10:36 pm •  Published: February 21, 2013
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A House panel on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation to overhaul Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, leaving out anti-abortion provisions that torpedoed an earlier effort to change the status of the state's largest health insurer.

The 11-0 votes signaled — at least for now — that one of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's top legislative priorities could reach his desk without language that led him to veto similar legislation in late December. The Senate OK'd the new Blue Cross bills in late January.

House Republicans last year tried to prevent insurance plans from covering elective abortions unless women bought a supplemental policy. Snyder was OK with doing that for health plans in a government-sponsored insurance marketplace required under the federal health care law, but he objected to extending it to private plans. He also vetoed the measure because rape, incest and the health of the woman were not included in the definition of elective abortions.

An amendment to bar insurance coverage for abortion — with exceptions for rape, incest and a woman's health — was circulated on Wednesday. Yet no House Insurance Committee members proposed it before Thursday's vote.

Ed Rivet, legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan, wrote a letter to the committee's Republican chairman on Thursday expressing the group's "strongest opposition" to the draft amendment. Right to Life opposes such exceptions for rape and incest, and had concerns about vague language making the legislation vulnerable to legal challenges, he said.

"The original effort to put this in the Blues bills was not our idea," Rivet said in a phone interview. "We weren't opposed to it. But it's never been our insistence."

Ten Republicans and one Democrat voted for the bills. Three Democrats abstained.

When the GOP-led House will vote on the Blue Cross changes has not been determined, but a spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger said discussions on adding abortion provisions could continue.

"If we find that language and can get everybody's support, we would add that," Ari Adler said. "The goal here is to get the Blue Cross reforms in a way that the governor will sign the bills."

The proposed reworking of Blue Cross, which has 70 percent of Michigan's health insurance market, would end its tax-exempt status and let the insurer convert to a customer-owned nonprofit. Supporters say the insurer must be modernized as it prepares for the federal health law and to participate in a mandated online exchange where the uninsured and business owners can shop for insurance starting Oct. 1.

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