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Government & Politics

Montana Lawmakers Study Medicaid Coverage Of Abortion Services

Montana lawmakers are studying Medicaid coverage of abortion after a session of passing several bills to restrict access to the service.

A proposal to create a politically appointed panel to decide who gets Medicaid coverage for abortions was met with bipartisan pushback last session. Republican lawmakers compromised and changed the proposal to a study of the issue over the next two years instead.

Adam Meier, director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, gave an interim committee an update on that study Wednesday and explained in which instances Medicaid covers abortion.

“The member's life would be endangered if the fetus is carried to term. The pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or the abortion is determined by the attending physician to be medically necessary even if the member’s life is not endangered,” Meier says.

Federal Medicaid dollars cover abortions in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. But a legal precedent from 1995 in Montana established that the state is responsible for covering abortions through Medicaid when medically necessary, which is broader than federal law.

According to the state health department, Montana Medicaid has covered 752 abortions in 2021, all in cases where it was medically necessary. The claims total about $250,000, and 34 claims have been denied.

Republican Sen. Carl Glimm asked for more details on how providers determine a patient’s case and whether they’re eligible for coverage. He asked if the department could identify the three providers that accept Medicaid for abortion services.

“I’m just curious if there’s any more detail to that," he says.

Meier wasn’t clear if he could identify the providers. Democratic Rep. Mary Caferro objected to the request.

“As we know, in the past, abortion providers have been targeted with violence,” she says.

The state has been sued by Planned Parenthood of Montana over several anti-abortion bills that passed last session, including one that bans ACA marketplace insurance plans from covering abortion.

Montana’s focus on abortion policy is part of a national trend. Last month, a Texas law banning abortion after six weeks went into effect, making it one of the most stringent abortion laws in the country.

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.