By- Simran Dadhich
A federal judge on 10 July, Friday blocked a new federal regulation that would have required insurers on the Obamacare exchanges that cover abortions to issue separate bills for that coverage.
The decision of the federal Judge marks a setback in the Trump administration’s long-standing efforts to limit abortion access through federal programs. Planned Parenthood of Maryland and several individuals who buy health insurance on their states’ exchanges filed the lawsuit in February, with lawyers from Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation representing plaintiffs.
US District Judge Catherine Blake in Maryland found that the rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) ran against section of the Affordable Care Act barring “unreasonable barriers” to health care, since “it makes it resistant for consumers to pay for insurance as they had to keep track of two separate bills.”
The insured individuals who helped bring the suit “are in danger of losing non-Hyde abortion coverage if states allow issuers to drop the coverage and if issuers decide that the ‘separate billing’ rule is too burdensome,” addressed Blake
According to Hyde Amendment of 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 Department of Health and Human Services, CMS’ parent agency, unveiled the new rule in December 2019, asserting that it “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 rule had originally been slated to go into effect on June 27, but was delayed due to pandemic.
Blake stated that, “The record indicates that the rule is likely to cause enrollee confusion and may lead to some enrollees losing health insurance and even if enrollees are not confused, they will still have to spend extra time reading, understanding, and paying two separate bills each month.
Jennifer Popik – legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee which is the largest anti-abortion group in the country stated that the group was “disappointed” in the decision, calling the current ACA separation standard “a bookkeeping gimmick.”
Opponents of the rule, considered decision as safeguarding health care access.
It was considered as the huge victory for the people who need and deserve access to safe, legal abortion. “Abortion is essential health care, and this rule was an obvious attempt by the Trump administration to put it out of reach for millions of people in the country”, Addressed Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood in her statement.
Association for Community Affiliated Plans, a trade association for 60 Medicaid-focused health care plans were also in favor of the decision and called the decision a major win for access to care, as the rule would have led “plans to drop coverage for abortion services, even if their enrollees desire such coverage.
The department’s rules looking to regulate or restrict abortion access have faced legal challenges, with mixed results.