By A. B. Hill

One of the most urgent concerns of the recently passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is providing health care coverage for adults who have a pre-existing condition, which may have made it difficult or impossible for them to obtain insurance. Pennsylvania joined New Mexico in the news this week when it obtained approval from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to operate its high-risk insurance program in the state.

This should have been good news; but alarms were raised when a careful reading of the approved insurance plan revealed it would cover abortions. Following a public outcry, HHS issued a statement that the agency will act to exclude abortion from this program. {{more}}

The bishops of Pennsylvania welcomed the commitment from HHS to exclude abortion from the federal health insurance program and echoed the sentiments of a July 15 statement issued by the chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):

“This week it was reported that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had approved a new high-risk health insurance program for residents of Pennsylvania that by its terms would cover abortions without meaningful limits. This federal program, established by the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), will provide health services until 2014 to uninsured persons with pre-existing conditions. The Pennsylvania plan, while purporting not to fund “elective” abortions, made clear in its text that all abortions that satisfy the requirements of certain Pennsylvania statutes (i.e., all abortions that are not illegal in that state) would be covered, and reimbursed, with a combination of private premiums and federal funds drawn from the U.S. Treasury. This first announcement that $160 million in federal funds would be used to provide pro-abortion coverage raised an alarming precedent. Later the news also became public that the state of New Mexico would be covering “elective abortions” in its federal high-risk pool, which was already accepting enrollees.

“Last night, however, HHS reacted to public criticisms by announcing that it will act to exclude abortion from this federally funded program, in accord with the assurances that Secretary Sebelius and President Obama have repeatedly made that PPACA will not be used to promote abortion. We welcome this new policy, while continuing to be gravely concerned that it was not issued until after some states had announced that pro-abortion health plans were approved and had begun to enroll patients. This situation illustrates once again the need for Congress to enact legislation clearly stating once and for all that funds appropriated by PPACA will not pay for abortions or for insurance coverage that includes abortion. Such legislation would mirror the Hyde amendment and similar provisions which prevent such abortion funding in all other federal health programs.

“In this program as in others, the issue of government involvement in the taking of innocent human life should not remain subject to the changeable discretion of executive officials or depend on the continued vigilance of pro-life advocates. It is vitally important for people with serious medical conditions who have been unable to obtain coverage to receive the help offered by programs such as this – and for them to be assured that their coverage will be life-affirming, not life-threatening.”

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A. B. Hill is Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of the Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania.