HHS bans coverage of elective abortion in high-risk pools

07 29 2010 Johnson2 NRLC's legislative director Doug Johnson.

After reports recently surfaced that some of the new federally-funded high risk pool insurance programs in states across the U.S. were covering elective abortion, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a statement today, prohibiting the plans from covering the procedure.

The insurance pool programs for high-risk patients are part of a $5 billion federal funding program set up under the Affordable Health Care Act that was signed into law this March.

When states began to roll out their plans for the federal funds, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) investigated plans in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Maryland, all of which the pro-life group accused of funding abortion. Following the passage of the health care overhaul in March, President Obama signed an executive order which purported to ban federal funding of abortion.

Following media scrutiny, the HHS issued a new regulation on July 29, clarifying that the pool programs are prohibited from covering the procedure.

“The (high-risk pool) program,” the regulation states, “is Federally-created, funded, and administered (whether directly or through contract); it is a temporary Federal insurance program in which the risk is borne by the Federal government up to a fixed appropriation. As such, the services covered by the PCIP (Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan) program shall not include abortion services except in the case of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered.”

“Much has been made of this policy by both sides of the debate,” White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle commented today on the White House blog. “But, in reality, no new ground has been broken.”

“The program’s restriction on abortion coverage is not a precedent for other programs or policies given the unique, temporary nature of the program and the population it serves,” she added. “It does not restrict private insurance choices and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will continue to be guided by the law and the President’s Executive Order.”

Reacting to DeParle's statement, NRLC's legislative director Douglas Johnson said, “Without blinking, the Obama Administration had approved high-risk pool plans submitted by at least three states that would have funded virtually all abortions – until NRLC raised the alarms starting on July 13.”

“In the regulation issued today, the Administration tells states that elective abortions may not be covered in the high-risk pool program – but simultaneously, the head of the White House Office of Health Reform, Nancy-Ann DeParle, issued a statement on the White House blog explaining that this decision 'is not a precedent for other programs or policies given the unique, temporary nature of the program … '”

“This entire episode demonstrates what National Right to Life said in March – there is no language in the new health care law, and no language in Obama's politically contrived March 24 executive order, that effectively prevents federal subsidies for abortion on demand,” Johnson asserted.

“This means that unless Congress repeals the health care law or performs major corrective surgery on it, there will be years of battles, as each new program is implemented, over how elective abortion will be covered – and the White House is suggesting that today's policy will not necessarily be applied when implementing the other programs, some of which will cover far larger populations,” Johnson argued.

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