Silence from HHS on Abortion as Obamacare Takes Effect

The Ohio Department of Insurance told HUMAN EVENTS that it isn’t anticipating any further guidance from the Department of Heath and Human Services on temporary high-risk pools established by the new healthcare bill, including safeguards against taxpayer-funded abortions.

The department said last Tuesday that it had guidelines from HHS for its application in June to be part of the high-risk pools program which forbade taxpayer-funded abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother.

Two weeks ago on July 14, HHS promised it would provide further guidance on the issue. A press release assured that abortion—except in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother—would not be covered in new high-risk pools set up by the healthcare bill. It also said the contracts signed by the state-run pools require them to follow all federal laws and guidance.

The press release came after news accounts reported that Pennsylvania’s high-risk pool program would include taxpayer-funded abortion. A similar situation occurred in New Mexico and Maryland.

So far, no additional guidance and no updated timeline for such guidance have been issued by HHS. Yet several of the high-risk programs have begun taking applicants. In Colorado and Ohio, for example, you can already apply to be part of the new temporary high-risk pools created by the passage of the healthcare act. 

Carly Glick, a spokesperson for Ohio’s Department of Insurance, told HUMAN EVENTS that the contract between HHS and Medical Mutual (the organization overseeing the high-risk pool program in Ohio) will include the following provision: “Benefits will not cover abortion services except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the mother would be endangered, consistent with the limitations on the use of federal funds in the PPACA and Executive Order 13535.”

The quote comes from the HHS guidelines which Ohio followed when applying for the high-risk pool program at the end of June. HHS hasn’t responded as to whether this was the same guidance given to other states. Ohio signed its contract with HHS on July 20, 2010.

Colorado, on the other hand, has deferred providing similar information but seems to be aware HHS has promised future guidelines. HUMAN EVENTS contacted Jon Pushkin of Pushkin Public Relations, the media contact listed on the press release announcing Colorado’s high-risk program GettingUsCovered, who said his clients felt it would not be appropriate to comment since HHS has not released the guidelines.

This situation leaves several questions unresolved: if the guidance hasn’t been issued before some of these programs take effect, can a taxpayer-funded abortion occur under the program?  Was Ohio operating under the same guidelines as the other states when it drafted its pool guidelines? 

HUMAN EVENTS asked HHS for comment, but the press release promising future guidance issued on July 14 remains the last on-the-record statement HHS has made on the topic.

Meanwhile, Maryland has changed the FAQ section on its high-risk pool program to exclude taxpayer-funded abortions. As of mid-July, the release said the coverage in the new high-risk pool program would mirror the state plan in Maryland, a plan which provides abortions. Now, the FAQ reads: “Among the differences between the benefit packages offered by the MHIP Federal Plan and other MHIP plan options: The MHIP Federal Plan will not cover abortions except in the case of rape or incest or where the life of the woman would be endangered.”

Rep. Dough Lamborn (R.-Colo.) was so concerned with what he saw happen initially in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Maryland that he sent a letter to Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and Steve Erkenbrack, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Health Plans, a company involved in administering the high-risk pool in the state. In the letter, Lamborn asked whether an application for Colorado has been submitted to HHS, if it’s been approved, and for a copy of the application. Lamborn asked for a July 28 deadline response from the governor and did not receive one. 

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has expressed a similar desire for more clarification from the state and federal governments, though he has been in contact with the Ohio governor on the abortion issue. He also expressed frustration with the referral loop that’s happening between the states and the federal level.

There is concern that even future guidance won’t be enough to prevent taxpayer-funded abortions under the healthcare bill.

A Congressional Research Service report on July 23 concluded that taxpayer-funded abortions could still happen in the high-risk pool programs, even taking into account the executive order, the Hyde amendment, and HHS contract solution. However, the report concluded that the secretary of HHS may have authority to do so. Eleven senators sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius requesting regulations by July 30 on the issue. There is also bipartisan legislation introduced in the House that would prevent taxpayer-funded abortions.