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HHS unveils new requirement to separate abortion services from taxpayer funds

Insurers providing policies on the Obamacare exchanges that cover abortions will have to issue separate bills for that coverage in an effort by the Centers for ...
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(CNN) — Insurers providing policies on the Obamacare exchanges that cover abortions will have to issue separate bills for that coverage in an effort by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to further separate abortion from government funds, the agency announced Friday.

“This rule will ensure that taxpayers do not contribute funds to pay for coverage of abortion services for which funding isn’t allowed by law, and will alert consumers that their health plan covers abortion services, allowing them to make fully informed decisions about their coverage,” the agency within the Health and Human Services Department said in a statement Friday.

The move highlights the Trump administration’s long-standing pressure on abortion access through federal programs.

Because of the Hyde Amendment, which dates back to 1976, federal funds are already barred from being used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the woman’s life. Under existing Affordable Care Act regulations, participating insurers may cover abortions, but enrollees’ payments for those services cannot be covered by federal funds and must be held in “a separate account that consists solely of such payments.”

The agency asserted on Friday that the rule “better aligns with Congress’ intent for (participating insurers) to collect two distinct payments, one for the coverage of (relevant) abortion services, and one for coverage of all other services covered.”

The new requirement will go into effect on June 27, according to the agency, which estimated that insurers in 18 states currently offer coverage for abortion services.

Abortion rights advocates and health insurance leaders criticized the measure as a partisan threat to accessing both abortion and health care coverage.

Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy at Planned Parenthood, slammed the administration as “trying to make safe, legal abortion even harder to access.”

“This rule won’t just require separate payments, it further splits off abortion from other reproductive health care and puts up massive barriers to access,” she said in a statement, adding that the group “vehemently opposes this rule and will continue our work to stop the administration’s attacks on our health and rights.”

The organization, which has made court challenges to other HHS rules looking to limit abortion, declined to comment on whether it would pursue legal action against the new rule.

Margaret Murray, CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, a trade association for 60 Medicaid-focused health care plans, slammed the rule as a bureaucratic obstacle that could jeopardize consistent coverage.

“Requiring people to pay two bills for one product — health coverage — is a non-solution in search of a problem,” she said, adding that “failing to pay both bills every month will set consumers on a path to total termination of coverage.”

Anti-abortion activists cheered the move as a commitment to enforcing Obamacare as intended.

“This new rule will ensure compliance so that ‘separate’ no longer means ‘together’ when it comes to funding abortion,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. “President Trump has delivered an important victory for American consumers and taxpayers.”

Katie Glenn, government affairs counsel at Americans United for Life, applauded the rule as enforcing the existing Affordable Care Act abortion funding regulation “nearly a decade after it was enacted into law.”

“Congress and President Obama intended that there would be no taxpayer funding for abortion under the insurance exchanges, and this rule fulfills that intent,” she added.

The department’s rules looking to regulate or restrict abortion access have faced legal challenges, with mixed results.

Last month, a federal judge struck down the department so-called conscience rule, which permits health care workers who cite moral or religious objections to opt out of providing certain medical procedures, such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.

But the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that the department’s regulations prohibiting taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring patients for abortions could go into effect despite a pending legal challenge against them.