WASHINGTON — In 2010, as pro-life House members sought to bar passage of the new health bill, President Barack Obama issued an executive order stating that the proposed legislation would not be used to subsidize abortion services.
This week, however, the administration spelled out some rules for federally subsidized health-insurance plans offered through state exchanges, and pro-life leaders says the regulations confirm that some plans will offer abortion services, courtesy of the U.S. Treasury.
Strikingly, this latest federal rule also directs plans that include abortion services to avoid any mention of that fact in materials designed for would-be customers. Thus, pro-life Americans must do their own homework to avoid inadvertently choosing a plan that includes a hidden abortion surcharge that will be used to pay for a service that many Americans oppose on religious or moral grounds.
“A lot of people heard the president say he didn’t want federal funds used for abortion, but none of that had anything to do with what the health bill actually said. What they are putting into place now is what the bill actually said,” stated Doug Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee.
“The most important thing for us to understand is that tens of millions of Americans will be getting federal subsidies for abortions.”
“Many plans will cover abortion. If you sign up for a plan that covers abortion, and if your income is such that you qualify, the federal government will buy the abortion-covering plan. That is a government subsidy of abortion,” he explained.
In 2010, the bruising partisan fight over passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, roiled Capitol Hill. While critics attacked the 2,000-plus-page bill as a textbook case of government overreach, pro-life House members feared that it would be used to bypass the Hyde Amendment and other legislation designed to bar federal subsidies for abortion services.
The key rule in the health bill is Section 1303, which offered “Pre-Regulatory Model Guidelines” for dealing with elective abortion by stipulating the mechanism for segregating funds used for this service.
“This confirms what we said the statute would do: Most health plans will have elective abortions. Those plans will receive federal subsidies, and everyone who enrolls in those plans will be required to pay for other people’s abortions, though they won’t necessarily know that, since the government will forbid the insurers to give people any special warning that abortion is included,” confirmed Richard Doerflinger, the chief lobbyist on life issues for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who played a major role in the fight to bar abortion funding in the proposed health bill.
“If you do include abortion in your plan, you must charge every enrollee for the abortions, and you are not allowed to tell them how much you are paying for those abortions. People are saying $1 a month, but that is the minimum. The actual amount will depend on how many abortions are performed and what they cost,” said Doerflinger.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., agreed that pro-life fears regarding the president’s full commitment to federal funding of abortion have been realized.
“The mass deception of the Obama 2010 executive order has finally been exposed,” said Smith, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, in a statement issued this week.
“The executive order implemented the same accounting gimmick, abortion surcharge and secrecy clause that was in the original text of the bill.”
“We knew it at the time, and the final exchange rule confirms once again that the president was suggesting one thing while doing precisely the opposite,” said Smith.
The president’s supporters argue that the funds collected through a separate abortion surcharge do not constitute a violation of the Hyde Amendment’s principals or of the president’s 2010 executive order. But Smith rejected that argument.
“Requiring the segregation of funds into allocation accounts — a mere bookkeeping exercise — is a cheap political trick designed to circumvent long-standing prohibitions on taxpayer funding of abortion,” said Smith. “This is an unprecedented break with long-standing federal policy on funding for abortion.”
The new rule directs plans covering abortion to avoid itemizing that service in marketing materials and to inform enrollees only after they purchase the plan. Smith characterized this requirement as a “secrecy clause” and strongly condemned it.
“This secrecy clause requires insurance companies to bury the abortion surcharge in the summary of benefits so Americans shopping for an insurance plan on the exchange won’t know about the abortion surcharge until they sign up for coverage — and even then they could easily miss the fine print,” said Smith.
He stated: “There is no abortion surcharge and there is no secrecy clause in the Hyde Amendment, or in legislation I authored in 1983 (the Smith Amendment) to prohibit abortion funding in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.”
Last year, the House passed three bills designed to counter the expected effort to use the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to subsidize abortion, but all faced presidential vetoes, and similar legislation was defeated or stalled in the Senate.
At present, 15 states have already passed laws that will bar elective abortion coverage in plans that will be offered on the insurance exchanges mandated by the new health bill: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia.
“In California, New York and every state that doesn’t opt out, massive federal subsidies will flow from the U.S. Treasury to these plans. They have breached the Hyde Amendment,” said the Right to Life Committee’s Johnson.
Opponents of this new federal rule, as well as the contraception mandate that requires church-affiliated institutions to provide abortion drugs and sterilization services in their employee health plans, contend there is only one sure remedy: total repeal of the new health bill. And, most likely, that will only come with the 2012 elections, which could mark a political sea change in Washington.
“Abortion isn’t health care,” said Smith in his statement.
“We live in an age of ultrasound imaging — the ultimate window to the womb. We are in the midst of a fetal health-care revolution, an explosion of benign, innovative interventions designed to diagnose, treat and cure disease or illness any unborn child may be suffering. Obamacare should do them no harm. Tragically, it does the worst harm of all. It kills children and makes others complicit in abortion.”
Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.