The Illusion of Healthcare Choice in Obamacare

May 8, 2014

Sylvia Burwell is testifying this morning before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the first stop in her confirmation process to become the next secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to replace retiring HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Unfortunately, a new face for the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” will not re-write this law’s troubling past, nor its rocky future.

President Obama touted this law as a new frontier in healthcare choice, affordability and flexibility. HHS writes, “The Affordable Care Act puts consumers back in charge of their health care. Under the law, a new ‘Patient’s Bill of Rights’ gives the American people the stability and flexibility they need to make informed choices about their health.”

Choice in healthcare under Obamacare is only a mirage, however – a mere talking point, especially when it comes to whether abortion is included in a particular healthcare plan on the exchanges. Individuals who want to be informed about whether a particular healthcare plan covers elective abortion are not given this information at all under this law. This troubles Americans across the political spectrum.

Indeed, Obamacare contains an “abortion secrecy clause” in Section 1303(b)(3) which prohibits individuals from finding out whether a specific plan on the healthcare exchange covers elective abortion until before enrollment and only allows information on abortion at the time of enrollment in the summary of benefits documents. Additionally, the amount of the separate “abortion surcharge” that enrollees must pay as part of these plans is also not disclosed in the monthly premium. Essentially, you have to buy a plan before you can find out what is in it, and you may never find out how much the abortion coverage for which you are paying costs you each month. This is hardly surprising coming from a law that then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declared we needed to pass before we could find out what was in it.

American consumers are out of luck whether they are looking for a plan that includes abortion coverage or for a plan that excludes abortion.

Millions of Americans received their infamous healthcare cancellation notice in the mail last fall informing them that their healthcare plan, which they liked and could afford, would be cancelled and made illegal due to Obamacare.

Among those Americans was Barth Bracy, a resident of Connecticut. Bracy, needing to purchase healthcare for himself and his family, looked at plans available on his state exchange to satisfy the law’s individual mandate. Like many Americans, Bracy has religious and moral objections to paying for other people’s abortions and in order to qualify for a healthcare subsidy, he has to purchase a plan on the Connecticut state exchange. Due to the abortion secrecy clause however, he was unable to find out what plans did and did not cover abortion on Connecticut’s state exchange. Later he found that every plan in Connecticut’s exchange covered abortion – a fact the Guttmacher Institute confirmed. This is in clear violation of federal law, which requires that for Multi-State plans run by the government in exchanges, at least one excludes abortion coverage.

For Connecticut residents like Bracy, there is no healthcare choice under Obamacare. Bracy can either violate his conscience and purchase a healthcare plan that includes abortion coverage on the state exchange when his current plan expires, or be fined by the IRS for non-compliance with the individual mandate and forgo healthcare coverage for his family, or give up the subsidy and purchase a more expensive plan off the exchange in order to avoid violating his conscience. Bracy, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), has filed suit in federal court (Bracy v. Sebelius) is alleging violations of the federal and state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, the Free Exercise Clause, and his right to receive information under the Free Speech Clause.

Americans should be able to clearly identify what healthcare plans do and do not cover. Abortion coverage in healthcare plans should be as identifiable as the plans’ deductible, co-pay and other covered procedures. Americans should not have to pay an abortion surcharge if their plan does cover abortion.

Burwell will have a tough task ahead of her in her confirmation hearing. She not only will have to defend the trillion-dollar price tag of this law but also its blatant violation of the separation of powers by the administration, which has delayed key provisions of the law over 30 times, the law’s violation of the principle of the long-standing Hyde Amendment, the destruction of the 40-hour work-week in America, and why the Obama administration refuses to provide even the most basic transparency when it comes to abortion coverage in healthcare plans.

Burwell must answer why Obamacare is denying choice to millions of Americans as a result of the abortion secrecy clause.

Grocery stores don’t hide nutrition labels on food packages. Car dealerships don’t deny potential customers the opportunity to test-drive a vehicle. Similarly, Americans should not be kept in the dark about what healthcare plans do and do not cover.

The next HHS secretary should assume responsibility for the lack of transparency in Obamacare and should commit the Department to working with Congress and the administration to eliminate the abortion secrecy clause.