Proposed rule on abortion certification causes confusion

by Lisa Demer/Anchorage Daily News

State health officials are refusing to answer questions about a proposal that critics fear could restrict abortions for low-income women in Alaska. Whether that would actually be the result is unclear. People on both sides of the abortion debate say it’s difficult to determine what the proposed rule really means.

The state Department of Health and Social Services proposed the new regulation for “abortion payment conditions” in late June and is inviting public comment through July 30. Officials say it’s not appropriate for them to discuss it until then.

At issue is coverage for abortions through Medicaid and Denali KidCare, the state-federal health insurance programs for low-income Alaskans.¬† The state wants to require physicians who perform abortions to certify on paper whether an abortion is medically necessary. If it’s not, or doesn’t meet federal criteria, the state won’t pay for it.

In a written statement, deputy health commissioner Kimberli Poppe-Smart said the changes are needed “to avoid payment errors” and “to verify that medical assistance funds are being used in accord with the law.”

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, which provides the majority of abortions in Alaska, says a shift in wording of what constitutes a medically necessary abortion is the biggest of several problems with the proposal.

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