Lawmakers can’t find abortion-free health care exchanges, push transparency bill

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Rep. Christopher H. Smith and a bipartisan pro-life coalition in Congress say the Obama administration is obfuscating consumers about the health care law by not making it clear which exchange plans cover abortion and which don’t.

Mr. Smith, New Jersey Republican, and others said it is also nearly impossible to determine whether a plan imposes a surcharge for covering abortion services, a complaint that adds to mounting concerns over the rocky rollout of insurance markets tied to the Affordable Care Act.


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A half-dozen House members, including Rep. Daniel Lipinski, Illinois Democrat, introduced a bill Wednesday to promote transparency on the exchanges because they fear government funds will pay for abortion in violation of the Hyde Amendment, a long-standing provision that bars the use of federal funds to pay for the procedure except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.

“The inauguration of the Obamacare exchanges reveals that many health insurance plans throughout the nation will subsidize abortion on demand, even late-term abortions,” Mr. Smith said.

The exchanges are online portals where Americans without employer-based coverage can seek private health care plans, often with the help of income-based government subsidies.

The markets debuted Oct. 1 but have been plagued by long wait times and computer glitches. Administration officials say the exchanges are getting better by the day, but Republican critics — on Wednesday alone — deemed the implementation to be a “fiasco,” “train wreck” and “unmitigated disaster.”

The administration faced fresh questions about the law’s viability Wednesday amid multiple news reports that officials had been warned about major design and technical flaws in the online system to sign up people for the state-based health insurance exchanges that debuted at the beginning of the month.

Mr. Smith’s bill would require qualified health care plans on the exchanges to prominently display information about abortion coverage in marketing materials, plan comparison tools or a summary of benefits. They also must disclose whether the plan charges a surcharge to cover the cost of abortion coverage, a fee that Mr. Smith said is typically at least $1 per month for millions of customers.


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“Without this legislation, millions of Americans are likely to be unknowingly enrolled in health plans that include abortion coverage,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

Congressional Democrats and President Obama have shown little appetite to alter the president’s signature health care law, and the administration Wednesday offered a different take from Mr. Smith’s on how the law treats abortion coverage.

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services said the overhaul does not allow federal funds to be used for elective abortion, but does allow individuals to purchase such coverage with their own money.

Sponsors of the bill said their staffers found it difficult to extract information about abortion coverage in general from exchanges in multiple states. Exchange staff said consumers had to pick a plan first or check, one by one, with each insurance carrier.

Mr. Smith circulated a “dear colleague” letter Wednesday to highlight the issue and discuss his staff’s findings, including that the exchanges for Connecticut and Rhode Island “do not have a single plan that excludes elective abortion.”

Sponsors of the bill say there should be little opposition to what amounts to a right-to-know bill that lends transparency to health care, a concept Mr. Obama pushed when the act was approved in 2010.

“This should not be a partisan issue,” said Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican. “This should be common sense.”

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