July 15, 2010 — HHS announced that state high-risk insurance pools intended to provide coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions generally will not include coverage of elective abortions, USA Today reports. The pools -- established under the national health reform law (PL 111-148) -- will only cover abortion in cases of rape, incest or if a woman's life is in jeopardy, HHS spokesperson Jenny Backus said in a statement yesterday (Hall, USA Today, 7/15).
The HHS statement was issued in response to claims by opponents of abortion rights -- including the National Right to Life Committee, the Family Research Council and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- that some states plan to allow coverage of abortions in the pools.
The National Right to Life Committee's Douglas Johnson contends abortion coverage could be permitted in Pennsylvania's high-risk pool because a state law says that physicians can perform abortions if they consider them "'necessary' based on 'all factors (physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age) relevant to the well-being of the woman."
Obama administration and Pennsylvania officials dispute Johnson's interpretation. Rosanne Placey of the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance said, "We absolutely do not cover elective abortions," noting that the state also prohibits the procedure under existing federally funded programs, including Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (Rovner, Kaiser Health News/NPR's "Shots," 7/14).
Abortion-rights opponents also claim that a New Mexico website initially listed elective abortion as a benefit that would be covered under the state's high-risk pool. Michelle Lujan Grisham, deputy director of the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool, said the state is in "the process of correcting the package so it will not have elective abortion coverage" (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Chicago Tribune, 7/14). HHS' Backus said states will update their websites in the coming weeks with information about abortion coverage in the plans (USA Today, 7/15).
The groups' claims are drawing criticism from some antiabortion-rights organizations that support the health reform law (Kaiser Health News/NPR's "Shots", 7/14). Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life -- which opposes abortion rights but backs the reform law -- said, "While Republicans continue to find reasons to criticize and mischaracterize aspects of the reform bill, we will work to ensure the law will provide affordable and accessible health care for millions of Americans while upholding the longstanding ban on public funding of abortion" (USA Today, 7/15).