By Susan T. Muskett, J.D., Senior Legislative Counsel
Congressman Andy Harris (R-Md), a member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, today questioned HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding two key aspects of abortion coverage on the ObamaCare Exchanges.
First, Congressman Harris questioned Secretary Sebelius regarding the difficulty that consumers are having in determining whether or not Exchange plans cover elective abortion. Even the CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest (PPVNW) recently wrote that “under the Affordable Care Act, it’s nearly impossible to find out which insurance plans cover abortion.” (An “Exchange” is a marketplace for the purchase of health insurance. ObamaCare requires an Exchange to be established in every state.)
This the third time that Secretary Sebelius has been questioned by a congressional committee on this very issue. Sebelius was questioned about it by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on October 30, and again on December 11, 2013 by the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Today, Congressman Harris reminded Sebelius that she had told the Congress that all a consumer needed to do was to go to an ObamaCare plan’s “Summary of Benefits” to determine abortion coverage. (The ObamaCare law requires every Exchange plan that covers elective abortion to give notice to enrollees of that abortion coverage in the Summary of Benefits (PPACA Sec. 1303(b)(3)). Harris then held up the Summary of Benefits for every Exchange plan in the state of Maryland and he said that “none of them have an indication whether they cover abortion in the Summary of Benefits. It’s not transparent whatsover.” He asked Sebelius if she believed that abortion coverage should be transparent to the person visiting an Exchange website. In response, Sebelius said “I think it should be transparent, what all the benefits are” and “I understand, I think people should know what the benefits are.” To listen to her, an observer would think Secretary Sebelius was some kind of a bystander or onlooker to the Exchanges. But in later questioning by Harris, she conceded that HHS has supervisory authority over all of the Exchanges, including the state Exchanges. Yet, five months after this issue was first brought to Secretary Sebelius’ attention by a congressional committee, she apparently has still taken no action to resolve it.
Second, Harris questioned Sebelius about the ObamaCare statutory requirement that Exchange plans that cover elective abortion must collect a separate payment from enrollees for the abortion coverage (PPACA Sec. 1303(b)). As the staff of the Washington Post explained on page 180 of their book, “Landmark: The Inside Story of America’s New Health-Care Law and What It Means for Us All:”
“Insurers can include abortion coverage in plans offered in the exchanges. But everyone who buys a plan that includes abortion insurance – whether a woman or man, of any age – will have to make two separate premium payments: one covering the bulk of the policy and another far smaller one, as little as $1 per month, for abortion coverage. The thinking is that this will further help insurers keep private premiums and federal money separate.”
At today’s hearing, Harris pointed out to Sebelius that the Maryland Insurance Commissioner had said that Exchange plans don’t have to invoice separately for abortion coverage in plans that cover abortion. (Congressman Harris was referring to Bulletin 13-24 issued by the Maryland Insurance Commissioner to insurers over seven months ago on July 31, 2013). Sebelius tried to evade responsibility for what the Maryland Insurance Commissioner was doing, but under pointed questioning from Congressman Harris she conceded that she has supervisory authority over the Maryland exchange. (For more information on how the two separate payments statutory requirement is being ignored, see“Bait-and -Switch: The Obama Administration’s Flouting of Key Part of Nelson ‘Deal’ on ObamaCare” here.)
When will Secretary Sebelius quit taking the dodge regarding abortion coverage in the ObamaCare Exchanges when she comes before these congressional committees? The American people have waited for far too long for the answers that they deserve.