NHeLP Says HHS on Solid Legal Ground in Rejecting Challenges to Calif. Health Plans’ Abortion Coverage

NHeLP Says HHS on Solid Legal Ground in Rejecting Challenges to Calif. Health Plans’ Abortion Coverage

Obama Health Officials Take Action to Protect Abortion Services in California

Washington – The National Health Law Program (NHeLP) welcomed the decision by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights to dismiss complaints lodged against the California Department of Managed Health Care for requiring managed care plans to cover abortion services.

In a letter last spring to OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels, NHeLP explained why the complaints filed against California’s health care officials were without legal merit, and urged Samuels to dismiss the complaints. Longstanding California law requires managed care plans to cover basic health care services including abortion care, recognizing that every woman must be able to make her own health care decisions. None of the managed care plans subject to the California law object to abortion services, and all include abortion in their health plans. Several religiously affiliated employers in California complained that California’s direction to health insurers to eliminate coverage exclusions for abortions violated the “Weldon Amendment,” which prohibits recipients of certain federal funds from discriminating against health care entities that refuse, on religious or moral grounds, to provide coverage for abortions. Following a lengthy investigation, OCR concluded that California did not violate the Weldon Amendment.

“This is a sound legal outcome,” NHeLP Executive Director Elizabeth G. Taylor said. “The action by California officials reiterating that state health plans must cover abortion care does not run afoul of federal law, and HHS clearly explained why that is the case.”

NHeLP Director of Reproductive Health Susan Berke Fogel, based in NHeLP’s Los Angeles office, reiterated that the HHS Office for Civil Rights was accurate in its assessment of federal conscious clause requirements.

“As we noted in our letter last year to HHS, the California Department of Managed Health Care has not discriminated against any of the health care entities who received DMHC’s guidance, since none of them objected to the California requirement. California officials following state law simply took action to ensure that state health plans are providing basic health care services, include abortion care. The decision by the HHS Office for Civil Rights is legally sound and exactly right.”

Please contact the NHeLP Department of Communications at leaming@healthlaw.org for additional comment.

NHeLP, founded in 1969, advocates for the rights of low-income and underserved people to access quality health care.

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