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Calif. Insurers Required To Cover Elective Abortions, DMHC Says

On Friday, the California Department of Managed Health Care sent a letter to seven insurers mandating that all group plans in the state include coverage for elective abortions as a medically necessary procedure, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Seipel, San Jose Mercury News, 8/22).

Background

The letter comes after two Catholic universities in California -- Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University -- changed their employer health insurance policies to no longer cover abortions unless they are necessary to protect a woman's health.

The change partially took effect this year at Loyola and was slated to take full effect at Santa Clara next year (California Healthline, 8/12).

The two universities' health plans are through Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente.

Details of Letter

In the letter, DMHC Director Michelle Rouillard wrote that "abortion is a basic health care service," adding that the state constitution "prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy" (Goldberg/Aliferis, "State of Health," KQED, 8/22).

Rouillard added, "All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally."

She wrote that the department had "erroneously approved or did not object" to some plans excluding elective abortion coverage and directed insurers to review their plans for compliance with the new directive (AP/U-T San Diego, 8/23).

According to the letter, the change is effective immediately.

Anthem and Kaiser have said they will comply with the order, according to the Mercury News.

Reaction

Depti Singh -- an attorney with the National Health Law Program, a not-for-profit group that has worked to ensure elective abortion is included in group coverage -- said, "We welcome [DMHC's] action in really enforcing what current California law is" (San Jose Mercury News, 8/22).

In a separate statement, several abortion-rights advocacy groups -- including the American Civil Liberties Union of California, NARAL Pro-Choice California, NHLP, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California and the Trust Women: Silver Ribbon Campaign -- wrote, "This clarification about statewide abortion coverage in health plans follows both the spirit and the letter of California law" (NHLP release, 8/22).

However, the antiabortion groups Alliance Defending Freedom and Life Legal Defense Foundation sent a letter to Rouillard on Friday saying that they plan to file a civil rights complaint about the new directive.

Catherine Short, legal director of LLDF, wrote, "California cannot be allowed to discriminate against health plans that don't cover elective abortions and force people to purchase coverage that conflicts with their convictions" (AP/U-T San Diego, 8/23).

In addition, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights President Bill Donohue in a statement on Friday wrote, "Paying for abortions is in direct conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church" (San Jose Mercury News, 8/22).

This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
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