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Judge strikes down HHS rule on ‘abortion surcharge’ in health plan exchanges

Judge gavel Credit Digital Storm via wwwshutterstockcom CNA Digital Storm / Shutterstock.

A federal judge has struck down a rule from the Trump administration requiring greater transparency for health insurance plans within the Affordable Care Act marketplaces that cover elective abortions.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ruled against a regulation introduced by the Department of Health and Human Services to require insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act to issue a separate bill and collect a separate payment for coverage of elective abortion.

Section 1303 of the Affordable Care Act mandates that if a qualified health plan covers elective abortions, it must do so by collecting a payment separate from the standard premium, and depositing that payment into a separate account. The regulation was included as a compromise in the law to ensure it received the support necessary for its passage.

Critics, however, argued that Obama-era enforcement regulations were so permissive as to render the rules meaningless, allowing health insurers to collect an abortion surcharge without separately identifying it on monthly invoices or collecting it separately.

A Government Accountability Office report in 2014 found that many insurers were ignoring Section 1303’s requirements.

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Pro-life advocates have called for greater transparency in order to prevent a “hidden abortion surcharge” which many enrollees may be unaware of when choosing a plan.

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new rule that would require insurance to issue a separate bill and collect a separate payment for the abortion coverage.

Planned Parenthood of Maryland sued over the new regulation, saying it caused confusion and could lead insurance companies to stop covering elective abortions in order to avoid increases in cost and complications.

Judge Blake said the Affordable Care Act did not specify how to ensure abortion coverage payments would be separate. She said the Department of Health and Human Services failed to explain why its process was a more fitting solution than the previous regulations.

HHS did not comment on the ruling, but said it is reviewing the decision, the Washington Post reported.

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