By Sharon Johnson
WeNews senior correspondent
Thursday, August 19, 2010
The White House ban on abortion coverage in the first phase of health reform signals a major anti-choice victory in the first wave of implementation to the major overhaul law. NARAL is petitioning Obama for change.
(WOMENSENEWS)--The Obama administration's stringent ban on abortion coverage in the new high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions who have been denied coverage in the individual market has spurred criticism among pro-choice organizations.
They say the ban harms the vulnerable women that the historic health care reform legislation was supposed to protect.
"This ban is blatantly unfair to the thousands of women who have heart disease, diabetes and other serious health conditions and who have been unable to afford and obtain the health care they need," said Donna Crane, policy director of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "Without access to abortion, these women will suffer lifelong complications for their health."
NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Washington, D.C., group that has advocated for pro-choice for more than 40 years, submitted a petition signed by more than 25,000 people to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Aug. 6. The petition objected to limiting coverage of abortion in state high-risk pools to cases of rape, incest or probable death of the mother if the pregnancy continued.
On July 1 states began enrolling the first of the estimated 200,000 to 400,000 people in high-risk pools, which provide physicians' services, medications and home health care for individuals who have been uninsured for at least six months. Expenses not covered by the participants' premiums, deductibles and co-payments are covered by the $5 billion subsidy Congress allocated to make the insurance affordable.
Initially, New Mexico, Maryland and Pennsylvania seemed inclined to include elective abortion as a benefit, but backed off after they came under fire by Washington, D.C.-based National Right to Life. The organization claimed that states are prohibited from covering abortion in the temporary pools because of the Nelson amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which stipulated that no federal funds be used to pay for abortion. The high-risk pools are being entirely financed with federal funds.
The Department of Health and Human Services, known as HHS, agreed and issued a directive July 29 restricting abortion coverage to the exceptions traditionally allowed under federal law: rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Nancy-Ann DeParle, White House health care advisor, said in a blog that HHS's policy was in keeping with the "spirit of the health reform law, which neither expanded nor scaled back current restrictions on abortion."
"Not so," said Vania Leveille, legislative counsel in the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has also lobbied the White House to reverse the ban. "The Obama administration's ban goes further than the health care reform act. Although the current program for the high-risk uninsured was authorized by the health care reform law, it is a temporary measure for vulnerable people until 2014, when it will be replaced with the state health exchanges where women will be able to choose insurance plans that cover abortion."
Under the state exchanges that become available in 2014, women--including some in the temporary program that began enrollments this month--may choose plans that include abortion coverage as well as those that don't. If a woman chooses a plan that offers abortion, she must pay the premium for the abortion coverage with her own funds and write a separate check.
By Sharon Johnson
By WeNews staff