ACLU: Kan. abortion law doesn't cut insurance cost

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas law restricting private insurance coverage for abortions has made it more difficult to obtain the procedure without doing much, if anything, to reduce overall insurance premiums or protect women's health, the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday.

The ACLU made the claim in a federal court filing that, for the first time, documents the impact of a state law that took effect last year, prohibiting insurance companies from offering abortion coverage as part of general health plans, except when a woman's life is at risk. Kansas residents who want coverage for abortions must buy supplemental policies, known as riders.

The ACLU has asked U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson to strike down the statute because its purpose is to make it more difficult for women to obtain abortions. The group claims the Kansas law robs women of their existing insurance coverage, forcing them to pay out of pocket for abortions and penalizing their exercise of a constitutional right.

"The Act does nothing to inform a woman's choice; rather it obstructs it. It also does nothing to protect a woman's health; in fact, it endangers it. It does not reduce the cost of health insurance in any meaningful way. Nor does it have anything to do with ensuring that individuals are not forced to 'subsidize the cost' of another person's abortion or any of the other rationalizations Defendant has conjured up," attorneys for the ACLU wrote.

The law was among several major anti-abortion initiatives approved by Kansas legislators and signed into law last year by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who called on lawmakers to create "a culture of life" after he took office in January 2011. Supporters of the insurance restrictions contended that people who oppose abortion shouldn't be forced to pay for such coverage in a general health plan.

Jeff Wagaman, deputy chief of staff for the Kansas attorney general's office, said in an email Friday that the ACLU's motion was expected. Without elaborating further, he said the state will be filing its own motion seeking a ruling deciding the case in favor of the state without a trial.

In the meantime, the ACLU's attorneys bolstered their arguments with depositions from insurance executives, industry data outlining the effects the statute has had since it took effect July 1 and questionnaires answered by state regulators.

Abortion coverage included in general health plans offered by the major insurance companies accounted for more than 70 percent of the Kansas market before the law was passed, the ACLU said. But after its passage, some companies decided not to offer abortion riders.

Even if a rider is offered in a group health insurance plan, employers decide whether to buy the option, not individual employees, it said.

The cost of the riders varies. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, for example, charges nearly $80 per member per year for riders in its group plans. The company also imposes a 240-day waiting period between the time a rider is purchased and when it can be used to cover an abortion.

An official from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas said in a deposition that, based on its research, it did not expect many, if any, abortion riders to be sold in Kansas.

Removing abortion coverage from insurance policies has not reduced their cost significantly, if at all, the ACLU added. Meanwhile, women who once had coverage for abortions are looking at big costs, with medical bills ranging from $450 to more than $10,000 for an abortion.

"One need only look at the effects of the Act — hundreds or thousands of dollars foisted upon an individual seeking abortion care, versus a small amount saved on an individual's premium costs — to conclude that the State's characterization of the Act as a tool for reducing insurance premiums is a sham rationale and pretext for the Act's evident purpose, which is to make it more difficult for women to afford abortion care," the ACLU's attorneys wrote.

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