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Posted at 09:39 PM ET, 04/11/2011

D.C. abortion funding: the facts

Earlier this evening, Mayor Vincent C. Gray, several D.C. Council members and dozens of private citizens were arrested while protesting a federal budget deal that, among many other things, will reimpose a ban on District government funding for abortions.

The debate over the abortion rider is fraught with emotion and inextricably linked to the city’s principled fight for full self-governance — including the right to spend its locally raised money as it pleases.

But while emotions and principles might be driving the debate here, facts are important, too. So just how many abortions is the District paying for?

Wayne Turnage, director of the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance, was kind enough to offer a detailed answer to that question today.

Thus far, Turnage says, District taxpayers have been billed for 117 elective abortions, totaling about $62,000.

That covers abortions billed under the health plans funded by Medicaid and the D.C. HealthCare Alliance program since Aug. 1, 2010. The previous congressional restriction on using local funds for abortions (aka the Dornan Amendment) was lifted from the District’s spending for fiscal 2010, which began on Oct. 1, 2009. But abortions weren’t covered until August 2010 due to the process of negotiating contracts and updating computer systems to handle the billings.

Turnage adds two caveats: That 117 figure includes abortions billed by only two of the three managed-care organizations that have contracts with the city. The third, Unison, has yet to submit its billings for the period since abortions were first covered. Also: Those billings still have to pass a adjudication process, where the claims are scrutinized by city overseers.

Around 200,000 residents are enrolled in Medicaid-funded plans, with another 25,000 or so in Alliance plans, Turnage said.

Since the federal health care reform law passed last year, the District has been trying move residents from the Alliance plans, which are funded wholly from local dollars, to Medicaid plans, where the federal government picks up 70 percent of eligible costs.

But under no circumstances are federal funds allowed to pay for abortions, even via the Medicaid-funded plans. Women enrolled in Medicaid plans have abortions billed separately to the District government, which pays 100 percent of the cost instead of passing 70 percent on to the feds (the Hyde Amendment has long prohibited that).

The Washington Post’s Paul Kane, Perry Bacon Jr., and David Fahrenthold wrote today that President Barack Obama himself had offered the District abortion rider as a bargaining chip (“John, I will give you D.C. abortion. I am not happy about it.”) in exchange for concessions on other women’s health-related issues — which likely included the continuation of $327 million in ”Title X” family planning funding.

So it appears that in the sheer numbers of the bargain, Obama’s deal was a no-brainer. But, as mentioned at the start, very little of this is about the numbers.

By  |  09:39 PM ET, 04/11/2011

 
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