September 2, 2014 — California law requires health plans to "treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally," the state Department of Managed Health Care said in a recent letter to seven insurers, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Seipel, San Jose Mercury News, 8/22).
The letter comes after two Catholic universities in California -- Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University -- said their employer health plans would no longer cover "elective" abortions.
The change partially took effect this year at Loyola and was slated to take effect at Santa Clara next year (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/12).
Details of Letter
In the letter, DMHC Director Michelle Rouillard wrote the department had "erroneously approved or did not object" to some plans' exclusion of abortion coverage and directed insurers to review their plans for compliance (AP/U-T San Diego, 8/23). According to the letter, DMHC's decision is effective immediately (San Jose Mercury News, 8/22).
Rouillard explained that a 1975 state law requires health plans to cover all basic health care services, which the law defines as those that are "medically necessary." Abortion is considered a basic health care service, she said.
Further, "the California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy," Rouillard wrote (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/22).
Anthem Blue Cross of California and Kaiser Permanente, which provide the universities' health plans, have said they will comply with the order, according to the Mercury News (San Jose Mercury News, 8/22).
Several groups that support abortion rights -- including the American Civil Liberties Union of California, NARAL Pro-Choice California, the National Health Law Program, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California and the Trust Women: Silver Ribbon Campaign -- said in a statement, "This clarification about statewide abortion coverage in health plans follows both the spirit and the letter of California law" (NHeLP release, 8/22).
Depti Singh -- an attorney with the National Health Law Program, a not-for-profit group that has worked to ensure abortion coverage is included in group health plans -- applauded DMHC's "action in really enforcing what current California law is" (San Jose Mercury News, 8/22).
However, the antiabortion-rights 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, said, "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).