Later this week the federal and state exchanges created under Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, will open for their second year of operation. After last year’s rugged rollout, with extremely expensive web sites that functioned poorly, the Obama Administration has invested millions more in fixing the federal site, healthcare.gov, and is promising better performance. It is far from clear that this improvement will happen, and in the area of abortion coverage nothing is clear at all.
Replying to a media question at a recent session with Obamacare allies in Washington, D.C., Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell addressed whether the second year of health care exchanges to be unveiled this November 15 will include information on whether each plan covers abortion on demand. “With regard to the question of this open enrollment,” Burwell mused, “working through the plans that are in place, for the most part, we’re finalizing those plans. So in terms of how the communication is going to work, we’ll have to see how quickly we can get the communication out and where we are.”
“We’ll have to see” doesn’t sound reassuring.
The rolling dismissal of the Obama Administration for basic matters of transparency is regrettable. Lest anyone forget, the Affordable Care Act was passed in early 2010. A central issue that roiled its final passage was the failure of Congressional Democrats to retain in the bill a comprehensive bipartisan amendment designed to ensure that the ACA excluded funding for abortions and for plans that included elective abortion coverage.
Now, nearly five years later, the fact of widespread subsidies for elective abortion coverage is fully documented, and the many other ways Obamacare expands abortion funding – the largest of them via state Medicaid expansion – are manifest. Thanks to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), we know for certain that at least 1,036 health plans offered on the purchasing exchanges, and thus eligible now for massive tax subsidies, cover abortion in any and all circumstances.
The problem is, we know this thanks not to HHS and the $1.7 billion in public monies initially spent on the exchange websites, but to GAO and a request by Hill Republicans that the watchdog agency do what Burwell’s predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius, repeatedly promised would be done and failed to deliver. What’s more, we know it for plans already chosen by American consumers and already in force – but not for plans that will be online and available for purchase in just a few days.
We know several other things. Health insurers who are required by law to collect a nominal abortion surcharge from subscribers to these heavily subsidized plans are generally not doing so. We know this from the GAO report as well, which found that 15 of 18 plans examined were not bothering even with this bookkeeping exercise. The Administration and many columnists believe the surcharge should assuage taxpayers about involvement in a major expansion of abortion funding. But imagine yourself as a defendant in a bank robbery arguing that, yes, you bought the getaway car, had advance knowledge of the crime, and stood to benefit from it, but made the bandits pay for their own gas.
Pace Secretary Burwell, we have already seen how “quickly” HHS “can get the communication out” about various features of Obamacare. It has been agonizingly slow, and many times longer than the time it took the much-less-lavishly-funded GAO to tell us what happened last year in the federal exchanges.
Now a coalition of research groups, including the Charlotte Lozier Institute, has formed once again to ferret out information from insurance companies that should be readily available on each of the plans they sell. It will be a difficult process. The insurance companies’ brokers, chat rooms, and plan documents have a way of turning official indifference into everyday obfuscation.
But no one should lose sight of the bottom line. Obamacare’s limits on abortion funding are a sham and its level of transparency is low. The law represents a massive shift of values from the ideals of competition, respect for conscience, and preference for life over the destructive alternative of abortion. There are glitches in the law, but the true glitch in this area is the law.
The real question is, will the new Congress elected on November 4 repeal it? Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner wrote post-election that we can be sure of renewed commitment to repeal it. That is welcome news, especially if the law is replaced with one that reflects the need for values-driven health plans. In the meantime – meaning this coming Saturday – health insurance buyers must be able to identify which plans cover elective abortion before they (and we, the taxpayers) sign up for 2015.
Charles A. “Chuck” Donovan is the President of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.