HHS Statement on Abortion Funding

The Department of Health and Human Services has released the following statement regarding allegations that newly approved Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans would cover abortions:

As is the case with FEHB plans currently, and with the Affordable Care Act and the President’s related Executive Order more generally, in Pennsylvania and in all other states abortions will not be covered in the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) except in the cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered.

Our policy is the same for both state and federally-run PCIP programs. We will reiterate this policy in guidance to those running the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan at both the state and federal levels. The contracts to operate the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan include a requirement to follow all federal laws and guidance.

I think pro-lifers are right to be suspicious about whether federal funding does end up going to pay for abortions under ObamaCare (the analogy I would draw here is to the recent Arizona immigration law; the law explicitly prohibits racial profiling, yet that doesn’t mean it’s unreasonable to be concerned that the law will in fact lead to racial profiling). At the same time, pro-lifers should avoid getting caught in a situation where they are seen as crying wolf, which may make it more difficult to expose real abuses of the law if and when they do occur. Based on the HHS statement, I have to say that, for the moment at least, one cannot say that abortions are going to be funded under the Pennsylvania program except in the categories allowed for by the Hyde Amendment.

20 Responses to HHS Statement on Abortion Funding

  1. Phillip says:

    A case of “he says, she says”? Who’s right?

  2. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “The high-risk pool program is one of the new programs created by the sweeping health care legislation (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) that President Obama signed into law on March 23. The law authorizes $5 billion in federal funds for the program, which will cover as many as 400,000 people when it is implemented nationwide.

    “The Obama Administration will give Pennsylvania $160 million in federal tax funds, which we’ve discovered will pay for insurance plans that cover any legal abortion,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the federation of right-to-life organizations in all 50 states. “This is just the first proof of the phoniness of President Obama’s assurances that federal funds would not subsidize abortion — but it will not be the last.”

    An earlier version of the health care legislation, passed by the House of Representatives in November 2009, contained a provision (the Stupak-Pitts Amendment) that would have prevented federal funds from subsidizing abortion or insurance coverage of abortion in any of the programs created by the bill, including the high-risk pool program. But President Obama opposed that pro-life provision, and it was not included in the bill later approved by both houses and signed into law. An executive order signed by the President on March 24, 2010 did not contain effective barriers to federal funding of abortion, and did not even mention the high-risk pool program.

    “President Obama successfully opposed including language in the bill to prevent federal subsidies for abortions, and now the Administration is quietly advancing its abortion-expanding agenda through administrative decisions such as this, which they hope will escape broad public attention,” Johnson said.

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has emphasized that the high-risk pool program is a federal program and that the states will not incur any cost. On May 11, 2010, in a letter to Democratic and Republican congressional leaders on implementation of the new law, DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote that “states may choose whether and how they participate in the program, which is funded entirely by the federal government.”

    Details of the high-risk pool plans for most states are not yet available. But on June 28, Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario (a member of the appointed cabinet of Governor Edward Rendell, a Democrat) issued a press release announcing that the federal Department of Health and Human Services had approved his agency’s proposal for implementing the new program in Pennsylvania. “The state will receive $160 million to set up the program, which will provide coverage to as many as 5,600 people between now and 2014,” according to the release. “The plan’s benefit package will include preventive care, physician services, diagnostic testing, hospitalization, mental health services, prescription medications and much more, with subsidized premiums of $283 a month.”

    Examination of the detailed Pennsylvania plan, reveals that the “much more” will include insurance coverage of any legal abortion.

    The section on abortion (see page 14) asserts that “elective abortions are not covered.” However, that statement proves to be a red herring, because the operative language does not define “elective.” Rather, the proposal specifies that the coverage “includes only abortions and contraceptives that satisfy the requirements of” several specific statutes, the most pertinent of which is 18 Pa. C.S. § 3204, which says that an abortion is legal in Pennsylvania (consistent with Roe v. Wade) if a single physician believes that it is “necessary” based on “all factors (physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age) relevant to the well-being of the woman.” Indeed, the cited statute provides only a single circumstance in which an abortion prior to 24 weeks is NOT permitted under the Pennsylvania statute: “No abortion which is sought solely because of the sex of the unborn child shall be deemed a necessary abortion.”

    As a result, “Under the Rendell-Sebelius plan, federal funds will subsidize coverage of abortion performed for any reason, except sex selection,” said NRLC’s Johnson. “The Pennsylvania proposal conspicuously lacks language that would prevent funding of abortions performed as a method of birth control or for any other reason, except sex selection — and the Obama Administration has now approved this.”

  3. Jay Anderson says:

    I disagree. I think the assumption should remain that abortion is being funded and that the Administration should be forced to affirmatively show that abortion is NOT being funded EVERY TIME one of these funding decisions is made.

    They are the ones who fought the inclusion of the Stupak language, and the burden of proof, therefore, remains with them on a case-by-case basis to show that federal funds are not being expended on abortion.

    I’m not worried about crying wolf because (a) because I don’t believe for one minute the Administration’s protestations that abortions aren’t being funded and (b) every time the Administration has to issue one of these denials it reinforces in the mind of the public that federal funding of abortion is taboo.

  4. Phillip says:

    It seems from Donald’s link that abortions are being funded – and not just those allowed by the Hyde Amendment. Is what NRLC is reporting false?

  5. Colin Gormley says:

    The problem I have with HHS is that they don’t state where the prohibition occurs. The EO is useless in the face of the actual law. Which is why I’ve asked defenders to point out where in the federal law the funds are prohibited from funding abortions.

  6. Pinky says:

    It looks like this is a case of crying wolf, and if it is, it discredits the pro-life movement. We can’t afford to look foolish. What scares me is that the administration’s defenders are replying that (a) no money will go to abortion, (b) it’s not much money anyway, and (c) the program will do a lot of good. I don’t see a reason to make the last two points, unless the arguments are being field-tested for future use.

  7. Phillip says:

    At least some money will be going to fund abortionsw if it pays for abortions in cases of “rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.” Even though these are in the Hyde Amendment, they are contrary to Catholic moral teaching. They were put into the Hyde Amendment to ensure passage – an acceptable political move if complete prohibition would have stopped passage.

    The question here is, even using the Amendment, is there a net increase in the killing of babies even if only for these politically accepted reasons? If so then Obamacare does increase abortions.

    The next question is, if there is an increase in abortions, did the provision of health care to more individuals justify this increase in abortions?

  8. Donald R. McClarey says:

    July 14, 2010

    The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

    200 Independence Avenue, S.W.

    Washington, D.C. 20201

    Dear Secretary Sebelius:

    We have recently learned that the Pennsylvania application to administer a federally subsidized Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (also referred to as a high-risk pool) for individuals with pre-existing conditions contains a provision that allows federal funding for abortion in virtually any case except sex-selective abortion. Similarly, we understand that a draft summary of benefits for New Mexico’s Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan explicitly lists elective abortion as a covered, and therefore subsidized, service.

    Both of these cases will result in funding for abortion in direct contradiction of longstanding U.S. policy against federal funding of abortion or abortion coverage. Unfortunately, statutory language prohibiting such funding was not included in the recently enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Instead of a statutory prohibition, the President assured Members of Congress by signing an Executive Order that claimed to ensure that abortion would not be funded under the authorities and appropriations provided in PPACA. However, further details regarding how this assurance would be implemented and enforced have not been released.

    In light of the newly discovered information about the Pennsylvania and New Mexico Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans and the paramount importance of this issue, we would request the following information no later than close of business Friday, July 16, 2010.

    1. A list of all states and the District of Columbia that plan to administer federally funded high-risk pools at the state level, including the following for each:

    a. whether an application has been submitted,

    b. whether an application has been approved, and

    c. a copy of any application that has been either submitted or approved.

    2. According to the HHS website (http://www.hhs.gov/ociio/initiative/), “HHS has contracted with the Government Employees Health Association (GEHA) to administer the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan” that will provide high-risk insurance to individuals in 21 states. Please provide a list of the states that have indicated they intend to opt into the GEHA program rather than establish their own state program, and a copy of the complete contract with GEHA including any language regarding abortion.

    We look forward to your prompt response.


    [Signed by John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mike Pence, Joe Barton, Darrell Issa, Chris Smith, and Joe Pitts]

  9. Phillip says:

    The PA plan states it will not cover “elective abortions.” What abortions fit the requirements? According to 18 Pa. C.S. § 3204:

    “In determining in accordance with subsection (a) or (b) whether an abortion is necessary, a physician’s best clinical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors (physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age) relevant to the well-being of the woman. No abortion which is sought solely because of the sex of the unborn child shall be deemed a necessary abortion.”

    Why did administration officials not ask that this be changed when the PA plan was approved? Did someone in the govt. just not read it? And if, according to state and Federal officials, Federal law will take priority, will they go back and change it?

  10. Phillip says:

    Another update. Perhaps there is also problems with New Mexico’s plan and the Executive Order may not cover high-risk pools:


  11. Donald R. McClarey says:

    From Life News:

    “Meanwhile, Bakus claimed the state web sites containing information about the high risk pools, that provided the information NRLC used to verify the abortion funding, will be updated in the next couple of weeks to show they will not fund elective abortions.

    “If HHS does now issue new directives to keep abortion out of this particular program, it will be because NRLC blew the whistle on them,” Johnson said. “The Obama Administration shows a pattern of relentlessly pushing pro-abortion policies through the federal agencies and on Capitol Hill, whenever they think they can do so under the public radar — and then scurrying for cover when the spotlight comes on.”

    That both states reported they would cover elective abortions is not a dispute, although both appear to be backtracking after Right to Life uncovered the abortion funding.

    The Associated Press reported Wednesday that New Mexico “initially listed elective abortion as a covered benefit” but then “reversed course” after AP inquired about the coverage NRLC discovered.

    Michelle Lujan Grisham, deputy director of the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool, told AP that the state’s contract with HHS stipulated the plan must follow federal law but did not spell out details on limits to abortion coverage.

    “As a result, New Mexico included elective abortion as a covered benefit, following what it was already doing with its own state health programs,” AP indicated.

    NRLC identified how the Internet site describing the New Mexico plan listed “elective termination of pregnancy” as a covered benefit and noting how it would pay for 80 percent of the cost of the abortion after the insured woman met the $500 deductible.

    Grisham initially told AP the state would follow through on that plan but then called the news outlet back later Wednesday saying otherwise: “We are in the process of correcting the package so it will not have elective abortion coverage.”

    Pennsylvania officials are backtracing as well, with Rosanne Placey, a spokeswoman for the state insurance department, telling AP the high risk pool will now not cover elective abortions: “That is not part of the benefit package.”

    Backus also said the Obama administration would ensure any abortion coverage under the new national health care program would be limited to cases when the mother’s life is in danger or rape and incest — which the Hyde Amendment limits funding of abortions to regarding other funding from the federal government, but which does not apply to the new health care law.

    Johnson ultimately told LifeNews.com: “I can and have been asked, can the Administration be trusted? Sure, they can be trusted — to try to expand federal support for abortion every sneaky chance they get.”

    “Everybody needs to constantly watch what people in this Administration are doing, not what they are saying,” he concluded.”


  12. […] The American Catholic doesn’t fail to keep its readers ignorant.  (Update 9:46:  Blackadder of The American Catholic notes HHS release and responds.) […]

  13. Itstheorientation says:

    Who are these people suddenly worried about “crying wolf” and being labelled as “crying wolf”? The bishops along with every other group concerned about murder said abortion was covered under this law. Independent news reports verify that until yesterday when prolifers made a cry (of wolf (Ha Ha)) abortion was on the website as covered.

    “But at least one state — New Mexico — initially listed elective abortion as a covered benefit, reversing course after The Associated Press inquired on Wednesday.”


    These WOLVES need to worry about their credibility before GOD and what eternal damnation feels like not to mention what an aborted baby feels–and her mom and dad when they wake up to what they did–and stop throwing up RED HERRINGS. Whose paying you–CHA?

  14. Phillip says:

    It seems on one of the threads over at Vox Nova they have stopped anyone commenting on how the Hyde Amendment results in more abortions under Health Care Reform. No refutaion of the argument, just prohibting comments on it. Now it couldn’t be because people are right?


  15. Paul Zummo says:

    Rampant Dishonesty Continues « Vox Nova says:
    Thursday, July 15, 2010 A.D. at 12:06 pm

    Somebody please read our blog. Somebody. Please. Hello?

  16. Elaine Krewer says:

    For programs such as Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs that are jointly funded by the states and federal government, each state has to draw up a set of rules that specify who is covered, for what procedures/treatments and under what conditions. These rules are called “State Plans.”

    All State Plans, and any significant changes made to a State Plan, must be approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is a division of HHS. As long as a State Plan doesn’t directly conflict with federal law, it is usually approved, so states do have some discretion.

    State Plan amendments also normally have to go through a period of review and public comment at the state level — this varies depending on each state’s administrative law — before they can be adopted as well.

    Apparently, these federally subsidized high risk insurance pools MAY operate in a similar manner. If that is the case, when each state draws up its plan, it will be done in the form of rules promulgated by the agency that administers the plan in each state. In most states, that includes some kind of public comment period, and if they know they are going to get a lot of negative public comment, they can usually be persuaded to backtrack on those rules.

  17. Jonathan says:

    Read this op-ed by Helen Alvare, one of the most intelligent and thoughtful people I know – http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/07/1423

  18. Phillip says:

    Just an update. It seems NPR believes that neither the health care law nor the Executive Order prohibits abortion funding for high risk pools. Also seems, per NPR, that New Mexico was already using Federal funds for elective abortions in their high risk pool.


  19. Rodney says:

    Great Post.

    These PCIP programs are to be in place until 2014, which is when affordable health insurance.

    Can we all just get along until then?

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