By SARAH MCCARTHY, Catholic News Service | Published October 2, 2014
WASHINGTON (CNS)—Members of Congress and pro-life leaders Sept. 18 criticized the federal government for failing to ensure federally subsidized health plans will not cover elective abortions.
“Health care should always support the dignity and life of the human person. It can never be about taking a life,” said Melissa Swearingen, adviser and spokeswoman for the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky.
She joined in a news conference held outside the Capitol that was organized in response to a new report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office showing that in several states subsidized health plans set up under the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges are covering abortions.
House members and pro-life representatives convened to call on the Senate to pass H.R. 7, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act.
Passed by the House in January, the measure applies the principles of the Hyde amendment to federal health programs, including the Affordable Care Act. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has prohibited the use of taxpayer dollars to fund federal subsidies to any part of a benefits package that includes elective abortions.
The measure also would require health plan enrollees be given full disclosure of the extent of coverage of abortion services provided by their plan.
In an interview with the Catholic News Service, Swearingen said the GAO report validated concerns the U.S. bishops have had that the federal health care law would allow abortion coverage, calling it “a tragedy.”
She also said it was “ridiculous” that people, whether they are pro-life or they support legal abortion, cannot find out if a subsidized health care plan covers abortion, even if it is their plan.
“It’s not really fair that they’re taking money from you as a taxpayer and they’re putting it into a premium that you have to pay that has to cover abortion in that plan, and you don’t even know,” she said.
Under the Affordable Care Act, state health care issuers are prohibited from using federal funds to pay for non-excepted abortion services, that is, those that are exceptions under Hyde.
The Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 without Hyde amendment-like protections. A day after he signed it into law, President Barack Obama issued an executive order applying the Hyde amendment restrictions to health insurance exchanges getting federal subsidies.
Despite the order, the GAO in its Sept. 15 report identified more than 1,000 such plans that cover elective abortions.
The health care law also requires insurers to estimate the cost of coverage of abortion per enrollee per month and to collect from each enrollee a premium for that coverage that is “segregated from any other premium amounts.” The report said this is not being done.
“Obamacare … as the pro-life community warned, is the vehicle for the massive subsidization by the American taxpayers of health plans that pay for elective abortion,” said Susan Muskett of the National Right to Life Committee. “And those accountable for this are the lawmakers who voted for Obamacare.”
Congressman Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the issue.
“It’s curious that the administration’s response to this report is not to deny that the law … allows the funding of abortion. Rather the administration says it’s incumbent on the states and the insurance companies to comply with the law,” he said. “Well, it’s incumbent on this executive branch of government to enforce the law.”
On behalf of Catholics trying to follow church teaching, Swearingen said it’s important that they know where their money is going.
“The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a grave evil, it’s the taking of an unborn life, and we think it’s very bad for women, very bad for families and for the community,” she said. “(Catholics) should be able to know if their money is going into a plan that covers something that they would find morally illicit, that they would find probably very reprehensible and abhorrent, and they would never want to be a part of it if they knew.”
The GAO report said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has provided limited guidance about the rules relating to coverage of abortion by health care plans. The HHS agency told the GAO “that additional clarification may be needed.”