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Maryland Politics
Posted at 05:45 PM ET, 02/22/2012

Catholics warn Maryland not to use ‘Obamacare’ to expand abortion coverage

One by one, lobbyists lined up in Annapolis on Wednesday to argue for everything that should be included in the health-care packages that would be available in the state under President Obama’s health-care overhaul.

Dental benefits? Mental health services? Care from podiatrists and chiropractors?

Check, check, check.

Then, the Maryland Catholic Conference argued for an exclusion: State lawmakers should not dare to use the federal reform as a pretense to expand elective abortion coverage, said Nancy Paltell, one of the group’s associate directors.

“Health care saves lives, but abortion ends a human life; it’s not appropriate to include it,” Paltell said. “We ask that you not risk derailing all the good work that’s gone [into Maryland’s implementation of the health-care bill]. We ask that you take steps to take abortion off the table as a public benefit.”

Maryland is among a small group of states working most aggressively to implement the federal health-care overhaul, often referred to as “Obamacare.”
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on Wednesday displays a prominent mark of Ash Wednesday despite sparring with leaders of the Catholic Church in the past year over his shift to support same-sex marriage. (Greg Masters - THE WASHINGTON POST)

The General Assembly approved and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed into law last year a measure to establish a Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, an online marketplace where residents and businesses can shop for and compare coverage options.

This year, O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown have proposed a bill that, among other things, would set a basic or “essential” package of coverage requirements for any plan offered in the state. The bill does not address whether abortion should be covered. Under the legislation, the state’s Health Care Reform Coordinating Council, would be responsible for setting the coverage guidelines by Setpember.

Following on the heels of a messy battle last week between the Obama administration and Catholics over whether the overhaul requires church-affiliated charities to provide insurance coverage for birth control, the scene in Annapolis on Wednesday hinted at the many battles to come as implementation of the bill accelerates.

States face a deadline to get exchanges up and running or defer to a national one by January 2014.

In Rhode Island, debate over whether to include abortion coverage paralyzed legislative approval of a health-care exchange last year. Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee later moved to create one through executive order, but right-to-life groups have since sued the state, saying he had no power to do so.

Fifteen states, including Virginia, have moved to restrict abortion coverage requirements in health-care exchanges. Virginia has not created an exchange, but the legislature passed a bill last year signaling its intent to do so.

In Annapolis, the debate over abortion opens up a new front in an already busy year for the Maryland Catholic Conference. The group is currently lobbying state Senators to not follow suit with the House of Delegates and pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.

“Abortion is elective and will do nothing but drive up the cost of health care for all of us. This bill is supposed to be about reducing the cost of health care,” Paltell said. “If we’re serious about that, don’t include it.”

By  |  05:45 PM ET, 02/22/2012

 
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