Topeka The fate of a proposal in Kansas to restrict private health insurance coverage for abortions became tied up Wednesday in state legislators' negotiations over obscure regulatory bills as they try to wind up their annual legislative session.
Three senators and three House members resumed talks Wednesday over various insurance issues, including the one on abortion. They didn't make much progress during a brief meeting but were continuing the talks.
Their haggling has benefited abortion opponents, who would otherwise have little or no chance of getting the proposal passed this year. But time was running short: Wednesday was the 89th day of legislators' annual session, out of 90 scheduled.
Abortion opponents want to prohibit insurance companies from automatically including coverage for abortions in their health plans, other than procedures necessary to save a pregnant woman's life. Companies would have to offer abortion-only coverage in separate policies, a requirement long in place in Missouri.
The House Insurance Committee endorsed such a bill, but it died in March when the full House failed to debate it before a key deadline. The Senate hasn't discussed the issue, but its negotiators are willing to tuck it into another bill — provided they get enough concessions on insurance issues from House negotiators.
Otherwise, said lead Senate negotiator Ruth Teichman, a Stafford Republican, "There is no reason for me to allow any language that has not passed either house."
That would be an unusual disappointment for abortion opponents, who've won the enactment of new restrictions on late-term abortions and passage of new requirements for physicians and abortion clinics since Gov. Sam Brownback, an anti-abortion Republican, took office in January.
Yet abortion-rights supporters are frustrated. The Legislature's rules have a provision designed to prevent House and Senate negotiators from discussing a proposal unless a version of it has passed at least one chamber.
"It's frustrating that the Legislature has other matters to tend to, but they want to tend to the matters between women and their doctors and their insurance companies," said Julie Burkhart, founder of the abortion-rights political action committee Trust Women, which lobbies in several states, including Kansas. "It just flies in the face of the democratic process."
Abortion opponents dismiss such complaints, noting years of frustration over vetoes by Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, both abortion-rights Democrats, and what they considered lax enforcement of existing abortion restrictions.
Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, answered abortion-rights supporters' criticism of the process with, "Whatever."
"It's just a byproduct of who has more power at the time," she said. "Cry me a river."
Supporters of the insurance proposal contend employers and individuals shouldn't automatically pay for coverage of "elective" abortions if they're morally opposed to such procedures. Five states, including Missouri, have such restrictions — and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, which operates in 30 Missouri counties and Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, carries its Missouri practices into Kansas.
Critics contend the goal is to limit access to abortions by cutting off a way to pay for them and that the state shouldn't interfere in the health insurance market.
But the arguments on both sides appear to be lost in the negotiations over insurance legislation. Instead, the discussion centers how loosely the Legislature's rules can be interpreted and what proposals can be swapped.
House Insurance Committee Chairman Clark Shultz, a Lindsborg Republican, wants to fold the restrictions on abortion coverage into other legislation. He noted that health insurance issues have been discussed in both chambers.
"That's how I found some comfort in stretching the rules a bit," said Shultz, also chairman of the House rules committee.
Teichman, chairwoman of the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, was skeptical.
But she also wants the House's negotiators to sign off on several measures.
One raises the cap on lifetime health care expenditures for children covered by the state's high-risk insurance pool from $1 million to $3 million. Another rewrites rules governing when consumers receive an outside review of claims that have been denied. A third rewrites regulations for group life insurance policies.
None of the measures has gotten much notice outside the industry or legislators who deal with regulatory arcana. But Shultz declined Wednesday to agree to the version of the bill on the high-risk insurance pool that Teichman sought.