Obama administration upholds Calif. abortion coverage requirement

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A senior health adviser in the Obama administration rejected several challenges from anti-abortion organizations in California that sought to rescind the state’s requirement for insurance plans to cover elective abortions.

In a letter to the organizations, Jocelyn Samuels, director of the Health and Human Services Department's Office of Civil Rights (OCR), validated a mandate from the California Department of Managed Health Care directing seven health plans to remove coverage exclusions for elective abortions. Several anti-abortion groups filed a complaint with OCR arguing the mandate violated the Weldon Amendment--referred to as the “right of conscience” statute--which prevents states from discriminating against healthcare entities on they basis they don't "provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”

But an OCR investigation determined that complainants did not meet the definition of “healthcare entity” and ruled that none of the seven insurers “asserted religious or moral objections to abortion” and therefore had not been “subject to discrimination within the meaning of the Weldon Amendment,” according to the letter.

Women’s health advocates applauded the decision, while anti-abortion advocates including the Alliance Defending Freedom told the Los Angeles Times the decision made “a mockery of the law."

Abortion coverage has been a hotly debated issue among states and insurers since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), sparked by confusion regarding how health insurance exchanges cover elective procedures. In May, a District of Columbia doctor filed a federal civil rights complaint against MedStar Washington Hospital Center for forbidding her to speak publically about abortion.  

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