DC Exchange Retracts Claim that Abortion is “Essential Benefit” in All Health Plans

Anna Higgins

11/1/2013 12:01:00 AM - Anna Higgins

I received a call this week from representatives of the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange in response to my article published by Townhall.com in which I outlined my journey to discover which plans under the D.C. health exchange exclude elective abortion coverage.

My previous calls to DC Health Link representatives yielded the same answer to my question – that every plan offered in the D.C. exchange covers elective abortion, even the Multi-State Plans (MSPs), one of which is required by the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) to exclude elective abortion coverage. Representatives were helpful, courteous and quite confident that all D.C. health care plans on the exchange were required to cover elective abortion coverage because it is considered an “essential benefit.”

I outlined my unsuccessful journey to find a pro-life plan on DC Health Link in an op-ed published in Townhallon Wednesday. Shortly after its publication, I received a call from the Director of Communications and Deputy Director of Policy for the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange, informing me that I was given completely incorrect information about abortion coverage on the exchange.

Both D.C. Health Benefits representatives were gracious and apologetic. They first apologized for the incorrect information and began to explain the actual policies regarding elective abortion coverage on the D.C. health exchange. Since I had been trying for weeks to get complete and accurate answers about elective abortion coverage in D.C., I was happy to have the matter rectified. During the calls I made to DC Health Link reps, I was originally told that elective abortion was considered an “essential benefit” in the D.C. exchange and, therefore, it was covered under all plans offered under the exchange. Each representative I spoke with confirmed that statement with their supervisors. I explained that MSPs were required by law to offer one plan that did not cover abortion and the response I was given was that all MSPs covered elective abortion. There was no place to get detailed information on the website to confirm or deny the answers I was given regarding elective abortion coverage, so I had to rely on the information given to me by DC Health Link representatives.

The D.C. Health Benefits representatives who called my office in response to my article revealing my findings about abortion coverage in D.C. informed me that, in fact, under both the 34 individual plans and the 267 D.C. “SHOP,” or small business exchange plans which Congress Members and staff are required to use, all plans offered by Aetna (private plans) as well as all MSP plans (which are offered by BlueCross BlueShield) exclude elective abortion coverage in compliance with ACA Section 1303.

To ensure that this confusion does not occur again, officials posted a FAQ to their website outlining what plans do and do not cover elective abortions. The FAQ on the D.C. Healthlink website, now states:

Question: Which health plans offered through DC Health Link include coverage for elective abortions and which plans do not?

Answer: Health plans that do not provide coverage for elective abortions include all Aetna health plans, as well as the multi-state plans (MSP) offered by CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (only the plans that include “Multi-State Plan” in their name). All health plans offered by Kaiser Permanente, United Healthcare, and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield plans that do not include “Multi-State Plan” in their name include coverage for elective abortions.

The FAQ is simple, and clear. It will be extremely beneficial for people who, like myself, are not willing to purchase health care plans that violate their fundamental beliefs. In addition to the FAQ, DC Health Link has instituted new training for every call center representative so that they are able to accurately answer any questions about abortion coverage in the exchange. These measures will not only be helpful to citizens of D.C. who are searching for health plans, but will also give a good measure of clarity to employees of DC Health Link who will now be able to confidently give proper information to the public. These simple, proactive steps should be replicated in every state with a healthcare exchange, as well as the federal exchange.

I expressed my gratitude to the D.C. Health Benefit representatives for their willingness to work with us to present correct information to the public. However, why was it so difficult for me to get this information in the first place? Perhaps even more importantly, why was it so easy for me to get incorrect information? Surely if this is happening to me in D.C., it is happening to people in other states who want to find out about abortion coverage in health plans in states and the federal exchange under Obamacare. The D.C. representatives shared my concern. In fact, the ACA is incredibly complicated and difficult to understand for even the savviest consumer. It leaves one to wonder if many of the complications in Obamacare are there by design.

Despite the clarifications made in D.C., the fact remains that many plans in the exchanges will include abortion coverage and will be subsidized by the federal government, violating the long-standing principles of the Hyde Amendment which the ACA bypasses. The fact also remains that many other states, and the federal exchange, have still not clearly designated for consumers which plans cover elective abortion and which do not.

Obviously, one cannot necessarily rely on information given by representatives of the exchange. Compounding the problem is the secrecy clause in the body of the ACA itself, which 1) prohibits insurance companies from prominently disclosing abortion coverage in their plans and 2) requiring insurance companies to levy a surcharge (at least $1/month and no more than $12/month) for abortion coverage to all enrollees in plans that cover abortion while forbidding the insurance company to reveal the specific amount of that surcharge to the enrollee. The trouble I had in discovering the truth about abortion coverage in the D.C. exchange underscores the desperate need for transparency requirements in the ACA.

In order to protect the conscience rights of all Americans, every state should follow D.C.’s lead and post a conspicuous and prominent list of plans available under the exchange that do not cover abortion as well as train all representatives to give clear and accurate answers about abortion coverage in health plans. Additionally, Congress should pass The “Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act” (H.R. 3279), which would require insurance companies to disclose abortion coverage in their plans and the abortion surcharge prior to and even after enrollment.

All consumers deserve to know exactly what they are buying prior to purchasing a product, especially if something in that product would violate their most deeply held beliefs. We must hold Congress and the Obama administration responsible for protecting the fundamental religious liberty of the American public by pressing them to enact new transparency regulations.