The Georgia legislature overwhelmingly passed a ban on insurance coverage of abortion for many health plans in the state this week, and also refused to expand Medicaid, fueling outraged protests.
The state legislature closed its session Thursday following a tumultuous week. Some 40 activists with the progressive “Moral Mondays” movement were arrested Tuesday for protesting the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid and leave about 650,000 low-income residents without insurance. Legislators were also in a race to deal with a number of controversial bills before the close of session. One of those bills, SB 98, would ban insurance coverage of abortion for state employees and anyone purchasing insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges.
The insurance ban contains no exceptions for rape or incest, and only a narrow health exception. If the governor signs it, Georgia will be the 25th state to forbid abortion coverage on the insurance exchanges.
Reproductive rights advocates have noted that banning insurance coverage of abortion is an anti-choice strategy to restrict access to abortion without the political and legal difficulties of banning the procedure outright.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal already pushed through an administrative ban on coverage for state employees last year after the legislature rejected a bill that would have accomplished that task. Including the same coverage ban in SB 98 would make the ban permanent, and a future governor couldn’t reinstate it without cooperation from the legislature.
HB 990 also appears to hedge against the health-care decisions of future administrations. That bill, which also passed this week, would strip Deal (and future governors) of his authority to expand Medicaid. Deal has been vocally opposed to Medicaid expansion, and the Republican-dominated legislature is on board with that agenda.
Nikema Williams, vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood of the Southeast, told RH Reality Check that the passage of SB 98 bypassed the normal committee process, and was confusing even for lobbyists and policy experts to follow.
“Things were continuously changing every 15 minutes,” Williams said. There were numerous different versions of the bill, and the version amended by the house insurance committee, which was actually assigned the bill, just ended up being substituted with the original senate language again in the rules committee, before being passed by the full house and sent to the governor.
“It was all politics to get this bill out of committee,” Williams said. “In an election year in Georgia where the primary has been moved up, legislators took health insurance away from women who currently have it, while not allowing comment in a public hearing, in a way that circumvented the committee process.”
Nora Spencer, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of the Southeast, told RH Reality Check that the insurance ban also represents one of many attacks on the Affordable Care Act in Georgia. Another bill that Spencer nicknamed “Don’t Say the ACA” prohibits legislators from even advocating for Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act, and then of course there is the refusal to expand Medicaid to begin with.
With the committee irregularities and the targeted efforts to keep Georgians from accessing affordable health insurance, Spencer said, “it continues to be backroom dealing.”