WASHINGTON — As lawmakers and religious leaders push for more transparency regarding the funding of abortion in the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), there are resources available to help Catholics stay informed about whether or not their health insurance plans fund abortions.

And as the 2019 “open enrollment” period comes to an end, innovative Catholic health-sharing companies also want consumers to know they offer affordable options that are in line with Catholic values.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, and the Family Research Council (FRC) have generated a tool that can help concerned Christians determine if their plan funds elective abortions.

Their website, ObamacareAbortion.com, launched in 2014, features information about plan options in each state.

Nicole Stacy, a representative for the SBA List, explained to the Register how the Lozier Institute and FRC developed the tool by compiling research from the state and federal exchange websites.

“We verified whether the plans covered elective abortion by checking the ‘Summary of Benefits Coverage’ for each plan. Insurance providers on the exchange are required to clearly disclose whether they cover elective abortion or not in these documents,” she said. “For noncompliant plans, we reached out to insurance representatives and covered via phone or email whether they provided coverage.” 

According to their research, 26 states prohibit plans covering elective abortion on their Obamacare exchanges, and 24 states plus the District of Columbia permit insurance plans that fund abortion. In eight states and the District of Columbia the only plans available on the exchanges are ones that cover abortion on demand.

The tool’s creators noted that this is “the highest number of abortion-only locales since our 2014 investigation began. The following states provide no pro-life-plan options: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.”

What can residents in these states who object to elective abortion funding do? Stacy said that “for most states, starting in 2019, the individual mandate no longer applies” and that for people looking for options, “some alternatives might include a private insurer or a health-sharing ministry.”

 

The Health-Share Alternative

A 2015 Lozier Institute analysis of health-sharing ministries found that their rate of growth accelerated dramatically following the passage of Obamacare in 2010. The analysis also revealed that the cost to participate in these ministries could be “50% or more lower than the premium and cost-sharing of comparable, conventional health insurance.”

One of these ministries, Solidarity HealthShare is based in Phoenix and was founded in 2012. It began in conjunction with a pre-existing health-sharing group called Melita Christian Fellowship Hospital Aid Plan.

Brad Hahn, Solidarity HealthShare’s CEO, told the Register how his group works.

Families that participate agree to a “Statement of Beliefs,” Hahn explained, “which ensures members of Solidarity do not financially cooperate in paying for medical procedures Catholics find immoral, like contraception, sterilization and abortion.”

He said that Solidarity is “simple to use,” with members paying their monthly share and receiving the medical care they want. Solidarity processes those medical bills on behalf of the members to “ensure the prices are fair and reasonable and then facilitates the sharing of those medical expenses among the members.”

The group even has options available for those with pre-existing conditions. Hahn explained that for pre-existing conditions that “could be improved through lifestyle changes (smoking, overweight, high blood pressure) the member is required to enroll in our wellness coaching program, and the medical expenses from those pre-existing conditions are fully sharable among our membership immediately.”

“For other pre-existing conditions that have manifested in the last two years, the medical expenses for the first year are not eligible for sharing,” he continued. “Year two, the pre-existing condition medical expenses are eligible for sharing up to $25,000. The third year is an additional $25,000 (total of $50,000), and the fourth year and later the medical expenses for the pre-existing conditions are shared at 100%.”

Hahn said that Solidarity is very affordable compared to more traditional insurance. He gave the example of a member who was “paying $2,500 per month for a family of six with a $10,000 family deductible,” and “now with Solidarity HealthShare, his family of six contributes $449 per month with the out-of-pocket costs of $1,500 per year.”

“This family is also comforted that their contributions to Solidarity do not pay for immoral procedures that offend the dignity of the human person,” he added.

Another Catholic health-sharing ministry that sprung out of Obamacare’s coercive requirements was CMF CURO. The group is a joint initiative of the Christus Medicus Foundation and Samaritan Ministries International and was launched in 2014.

Louis Brown, the former director of CMF CURO, told the Daily Signal in 2016 that the group began as part of the “Catholic response to the needs and suffering of today within American health care.”

“We believe as Catholics that problems are best solved closest to the problem, and here, we are able to solve this problem of medical costs and medical needs and health-care needs,” he explained.

Added Brown, “It works, and it’s less expensive, and it’s consistent with your faith.”

 

Fighting for Transparency

The issue of abortion funding in health-care coverage is also getting some attention in Washington. In August, a group of lawmakers, led by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., highlighted transparency concerns regarding Obamacare’s abortion coverage in a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar. The letter called for additional regulations to improve transparency surrounding abortion funding.

The lawmakers called on the Trump administration to enforce the Affordable Care Act’s Section 1303 requirement that insurers must get a separate payment, or “abortion surcharge,” if the plan covers elective abortion. Under current regulations, the insurer is not required to identify the abortion surcharge separately on monthly invoices or collect it separately, making the payment “all but invisible.”

A 2014 Government Accountability Office report found 1,036 Obamacare plans that covered elective abortion and received taxpayer subsidies. The report found that nearly all of these insurance issuers were not complying with Section 1303 by itemizing the required separate abortion surcharge on their bills.

Last month, the Trump administration did issue a new proposed rule to enforce the law requiring insurance companies to collect payments for abortion coverage separately from premiums.

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser praised the rule in a statement at the time.

“Consumers deserve to know how Obamacare pays for abortion so they can avoid having their hard-earned dollars used to fund the destruction of innocent lives,” she said. “Congress must still act to eliminate abortion funding from Obamacare, but until then, the rule issued today is an important step in the right direction.”

Lauretta Brown writes from Washington, D.C.