The public comment period is now over for the Alaska Department of Health’s plan to require that doctors fill out new paperwork for medically-necessary abortions on women relying on Medicaid. Critics of the new forms worry that they may be a backdoor attempt to redefine what constitutes “medically necessary,” a term that anti-choice politicians argue is too broad.
The state’s health commissioner, meanwhile, claims the new procedure is merely about properly vetting the paperwork–and making sure that the federal government is paying for as many of the procedures as the state can charge to them.
Via Alaska Daily News:
[Alaska health commissioner William] Streur responded that the state is still evaluating public comments on the proposal and may change the language. If the proposal is ultimately adopted, the court will determine whether it’s unconstitutional, he wrote.
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At any rate, the health department will rely on a doctor’s professional judgment for whether an abortion is needed, Streur wrote.
The state wants to collect additional information from doctors on abortions in order to see if any qualify for federal funding, which is limited to cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is danger. The state pays for those that don’t meet that standard if they are medically necessary. The state doesn’t want to pay for elective abortions, Streur has said.
Prior to the new proposed paperwork procedure, a doctor could simply identify that an abortion was medically necessary without going into the specific details. One concern presented by those who oppose the new requirement is the creation of additional paperwork that would potentially violate the privacy of the women obtaining abortions — especially the “signed statement” of a woman who says that she has been raped, which would be added as a permanent part of her medical file.
“If the department is truly interested in strengthening their accounting practices and not intending to change the definition of “medically necessary,” then their form should conform to the established definition of medically necessary. Without consistent language we cannot be sure what the certificate wording means,” said Clover Simon, Alaska spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, via email. “In addition, in those instances where federal funding is available, require a certificate. Their broad brush strokes make this proposed rule unconstitutional.”
Is the new policy really necessary in order to ensure federal refunds are secured for all qualified abortions, or is that just a smokescreen the state is using to make it more difficult for low-income women to obtain abortions in the state? The deadline for public comment has passed, yet the department not only has no information on what the public had to say about the proposal, it can’t even tell the press how many people commented in the first place.
It’s a lack of transparency that could make reproductive rights supporters wonder how legitimate the seeking of public comment was in the first place.