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Today, the Obama Administration determined that California followed federal law in enforcing a longstanding policy that requires most health insurance plans to provide comprehensive coverage of health care services, including abortion. Notably, no health insurance plans have objected to California's policy that requires coverage of the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion. It was anti-women's health activists who want to block women's access to safe, legal abortion who complained to HHS' Office of Civil Rights.

“Every woman should be able to access safe, legal abortion without barriers — no matter how much money she makes or who provides her health insurance. We’re pleased the Obama administration rejected this attempt to block commonsense health care protections. As a health care provider, we know that all people must be able to make personal medical decisions that are based on what’s best for their health and well-being, not on the religious beliefs of others.” —Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America

In August 2014, the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) sent letters to managed care plans clarifying that abortion, like prenatal care and delivery, is basic health care that must be covered under state law after. The letters were sent after DMHC learned that a secular insurance company had marketed large group policies that essentially eliminated abortion coverage. The letters also noted that religiously-affiliated health insurance plans would not be required to provide coverage for a service to which they object on religious grounds.  None of the issuers who received the letters are religiously affiliated, and none of them raised objection to the policy clarification set forth in DMHC’s letter.

In response, anti-abortion activist groups sent a letter to DMHC and a complaint to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR) alleging that the DMHC’s enforcement of California law violates the Weldon Amendment, an appropriations rider that prohibits any government from discriminating against certain “health care entities” on the basis that they do not provide, pay for, provide coverage of or refer for abortions. In November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sent a letter calling on Congress to incorporate the so-called Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA). This would codify the Weldon Amendment and enable a broad range of health professionals to refuse care and coverage of abortion, even in life-endangering and emergency situations, into appropriations legislation.

Today, OCR announced that it concluded its investigation and found that DMHC did not violate the Weldon Amendment. In particular, it explained that since the California insurers did not object to providing insurance coverage for abortion “there is no health care entity protected under the statute that has asserted a religious or moral objection to abortion and therefore there is no covered entity that has been subject to discrimination within the meaning of the Weldon Amendment.”

Tags: Obama Administration, California, Health Care, Abortion

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