February 1, 2016 — Conservative lawmakers are trying to pass antiabortion-rights legislation related to an ongoing investigation into a California requirement that the state's insurers must provide abortion coverage, The Hill reports.
In August 2014, the California Department of Managed Health Care sent a letter to seven insurers notifyingthem that all group plans in the state "must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally" in their coverage. The letter came 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.
In October 2014, California Catholic Conference filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging that the state DMHC violated the federal Weldon Amendment, which permits the federal government to withhold funding from agencies, state or local governments and other programs for discriminating against hospitals, insurers or physicians over their refusal to participate in care or coverage related to abortion. CCC also alleged that the administrative order directly targeted Catholic institutions (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/3/14).
In December 2014, HHS Office for Civil Rights announced that it had launched an investigation following CCC's allegations. Conservative lawmakers and CCC now are pressing OCR for a resolution to the investigation.
HHS OCR Says Investigation Ongoing
According to The Hill, some conservative lawmakers are trying to address the matter by passing a measure that would expand the Weldon Amendment, leaving it in place for an indefinite amount of time and permitting individuals to file legal challenges over alleged violations. Currently, the Weldon Amendment must be approved each year in federal appropriations measures, similar to the Hyde Amendment, and only HHS can enforce it.
According to The Hill, conservatives in the House tried and failed to include the measure as part of the government spending bill signed in December 2015. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) said the measure would likely not receive a vote on its own, but lawmakers would attempt to include the language in a different appropriations measure.
In a statement, HHS spokesperson Ben Wakana said OCR is still investigating the complaint and cannot comment.
Separately, Georgeanne Usova, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that no insurance companies affected by the California requirement have filed complaints. "There's no discrimination," she said, adding, "None of the health plans have any objections." She said the state is trying to guarantee that "a woman's access to reproductive healthcare isn't up to her employer" (Sullivan, The Hill, 1/29).