California Reverses Decision that Let Insurance Coverage Exclude Abortions

Monday, August 25, 2014

California, which has bucked a nationwide trend to restrict access to abortion, tightened up its state regulations on Friday and alerted insurance companies that they could not offer policies like the ones two Catholic universities used to deny its employees coverage.

California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) sent letters like this one (pdf) to seven insurance companies that it had “erroneously approved or did not object” to language in insurance policies that “discriminate against women by limiting or excluding coverage for termination of pregnancies.”

“Abortion is a basic health service,” DMHC Director Michelle Rouillard wrote in the letters. “All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.” hyperbolically summarized the ruling to mean, “State Forces Catholic Colleges to Pay for Abortion.” But what it really means is that Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles and Santa Clara University, two Jesuit-run institutions, cannot exclude abortion coverage from employee insurance policies.

To the consternation of staff and faculty members, both schools announced late last year that they would do just that. LMU held a campus-wide debate for weeks before its board of trustees voted to approve the insurance policy, but said it would offer a separate, more expensive one to those who wanted the coverage. Santa Clara didn’t offer the option.

Santa Clara President Michael Engh, a Jesuit priest, said at the time, “Our core commitments as a Catholic university are incompatible with the inclusion of elective abortion coverage in the University's health plans.”

Federal law does not mandate abortion coverage in insurance policies, but state law and the California Constitution are more expansive about protecting reproductive rights of women. The Brown administration reversed itself after hearing loud protests from abortion rights advocates and receiving a formal protest from the Legislature’s Women’s Caucus.

Anthem Blue Cross of California and Kaiser Permanente, the two insurance companies used by the schools, said they would comply with the letters.

–Ken Broder      


To Learn More:

State Reverses Position on Health Insurance Abortion Coverage (by Tracy Seipel, San Jose Mercury News)

State Reverses Abortion Decision at 2 Catholic Colleges (by Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle)

California Expands Abortion Access, While Two Universities Curtail Insurance Coverage (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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