Pennsylvania Insurance Dept. evades questions on federal abortion coverage

Pennsylvania Insurance Dept. spokeswoman Rosanne Placey and the state seal.
Pennsylvania Insurance Dept. spokeswoman Rosanne Placey and the state seal.


After the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) claimed earlier this week that a new federally funded insurance program in Pennsylvania will cover abortions, CNA contacted the Pennsylvania Insurance Department to verify the charges, with the department ultimately evading the allegations.

NRLC is one of many critics this week who have condemned the Obama administration's approval of a federally funded $160 million high-risk insurance coverage initiative in Pennsylvania that was created as a part of the recent health care overhaul.

The federal fund is being accused of covering abortions if they are deemed necessary by a physician.

National Right to Life issued a statement on Tuesday evening explaining that the $160 million plan is part of a $5 billion federal funding program set up under the Affordable Health Care Act that was signed into law in March.

Although the language of the Pennsylvania insurance plan states that the funding does not cover “elective abortions,” NRLC argued that nowhere in the document is the term “elective” defined.

Rather, abortions will be covered if they are prescribed under the necessary “requirements” of several state statutes. Abortion is legal in Pennsylvania if a single physician believes that it is “necessary” based  “all factors (physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age) relevant to the well-being of the woman,” according to section 3204 of Pennsylvania's consolidated statute 18.

NRLC asserted the language bars abortion only if it is motivated by gender discrimination, in other words “sex-selection.”

CNA contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance with NRLC's charges that the plan will ultimately fund non-elective abortions.

Rosanne Placey, press secretary for the department's Communications Office, replied, “Our high risk proposal and any subsequent contracts must comply with federal law and regulations.”

“So that means that federal law as well as the Hyde amendment would control the high risk plan here,” she said. “We could not and would not use federal money to cover elective abortions. The benefits do not include elective abortions. Our plan says that.”

“Also, we could not and would not use federal money to go beyond the scope of the Hyde amendment,” Placey added. “The Hyde amendment says that is only to save the life of the mother, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. So beyond that very limited scope – funds cannot be used to include abortions.”      

In response to Placey's argument, Douglas Johnson, legislative director of NRLC, countered that “there is no language in the law, in the Affordable Health Care Act as they call it, that in any way restricts the use of these funds for abortion,” particularly within the higher risk pool program.
“Everything she is talking about is entirely beside the point,” he charged.

The pool program, Johnson explained,  has “nothing to do with the Hyde amendment,” since “the Hyde amendment controls only money that flows through a single pipeline which is the annual HHS (Health and Human Services department) appropriation bill.”

“This program involves no such money – the money for this program is federal money.”

Commenting on the executive order President Obama signed in March, Johnson explained that the Hyde amendment, as stated in the executive order on abortion, only applies to insurance exchange programs and community health center programs.

According to him, the Hyde amendment does not apply to and has nothing to do with high-risk pool programs.

Johnson's points were not countered by Placey, instead the insurance department spokeswoman held to her previous statement, saying, “I do think this is pretty clear.”

High-risk pool programs for states across the U.S. have been the subject of increasing criticism among pro-life groups. NRLC also reported this week that the language within the high-risk program in New Mexico explicitly covers elective abortions.

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