Hiding Obamacare's abortion coverage

Anna Higgins is Senior Fellow for Life Studies at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Washington Times on December 23, 2013.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has been embroiled in controversy surrounding the less-than-stellar rollout of Obamacare this fall.

During the first round of congressional hearings on the subject of the Healthcare.gov website, Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican, asked Mrs. Sebelius to make sure that federal exchange plans that cover elective abortion are readily identifiable to consumers, so that people who do not wish to purchase plans that cover elective abortion would not unknowingly enroll in such plans. Mrs. Sebelius responded, "I know exactly the issue you're talking about. I will check and make sure that is clearly identifiable." She also promised to provide the committee a list of insurers in the federal exchange who do not offer abortion coverage.

Nearly two months later, Mrs. Sebelius has still not provided any such information to the public.

In order to provide such information, she would necessarily have to act in opposition to specific provisions within the Affordable Care Act itself. The act employs a secrecy clause, the purpose of which is to make it practically impossible for consumers to discover which plans in the exchange exclude elective-abortion coverage.

The act keeps consumers in the dark on abortion coverage in health plans by dictating that insurance companies inform consumers about abortion coverage "only as part of the summary of benefits and coverage explanation, at the time of enrollment, of such coverage ."

The myth that Obamacare does not publicly fund abortion is still running rampant despite the fact that we know many plans in the exchanges will include elective abortion and the government will subsidize those plans with taxpayer dollars anyway. Inexplicably, however, many, if not most, of the plans that cover elective abortion exclude coverage for services that would be far more beneficial to a greater number of enrollees, such as hearing aids, routine foot care and infertility treatments.

What about the cost of elective abortion in new health care plans?

The abortion scheme in Obamacare requires insurance companies to collect a separate surcharge from all enrollees in plans that cover elective abortion so that it is "separate" from the rest of the coverage costs, and prohibits insurance companies from providing enrollees with information about how much of their premium pays for abortion coverage. Surely, the secretary of health and human services is well aware of this provision of the law, which presents an almost impassible obstacle on the path to the goal of making sure abortion coverage in health care plans is "clearly identifiable."

In previous weeks, the Family Research Council delved into the District of Columbia exchange site (D.C. Healthlink) in an attempt to discover which plans cover elective abortion and which do not. They found that not only was it almost impossible to get accurate information from either the insurer directly or the health exchange representatives, but it was very easy to get incorrect information. When we called into the exchange in Maryland, we were met with almost identically frustrating results.

To D.C. Healthlink's credit, after the results of the inquiry were published, executives at the exchange posted "frequently asked questions" on their website detailing which plans covered elective abortion and also retrained their representatives to dispense accurate information to consumers on the subject of elective-abortion coverage. Healthcare.gov, the federal Obamacare exchange website, offers no information on plans that cover elective abortion.

The House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee held a hearing on Dec. 11, and Mr. Shimkus again pressed Mrs. Sebelius for an answer as to why consumers are still unable to access information on which health care plans cover elective abortion. Mrs. Sebelius responded, "It is on the website. It is available." This, however, is blatantly untrue.

The D.C. exchange was able to offer an explanation of elective-abortion coverage within one day of determining that the information was unavailable. The federal government has not been able to employ the same simple, straightforward approach - although it has been more than six weeks since Mrs. Sebelius promised to address the issue.

There is obviously no intent on the part of the Department of Health and Human Services or the administration to make information about elective-abortion coverage in health care plans available. Transparency is essential to good governance, and the lack of transparency regarding abortion coverage in the exchanges forces Americans to make an uninformed decision when buying health insurance.

This inaction should provide Congress with even more of an incentive to pass the Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act (H.R. 3279), which would require prominent, transparent disclosure of abortion coverage for each plan offered on an exchange. Introduced by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, and Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, the bill would require insurance companies to disclose information to consumers regarding abortion coverage and abortion surcharges. This measure is essential to the protection of conscience rights and religious liberty.