PROVIDENCE — Alliance Defending Freedom is claiming victory in its challenge against a provision of Obamacare which required every individual purchasing health insurance through their state’s health exchange to pay a surcharge that would cover elective abortions.
The Rhode Island Health Exchange, a marketplace where consumers can purchase insurance coverage, has amended its policies to now offer plans at each tier level that do not provide coverage for abortion services and do not require payment of the surcharge.
“Americans should be free to obtain health care without having to pay for elective abortions,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “The Constitution and federal and state law protect individuals from this type of government coercion. We commend Rhode Island for revising its health insurance exchange so that the state’s citizens do not have to financially support abortion in order to obtain health care.”
ADF, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit legal organization focused on building alliances and advocating for the right of people to freely live out their faith, had filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in January on behalf of an HIV-positive Rhode Island man after he lost his private health plan due to Obamacare, forcing him to seek critically needed coverage under one of the state’s health exchange plans.
Not wanting to compromise his religious beliefs by paying the mandated abortion surcharge, the man filed suit through ADF, challenging secrecy clauses within Obamacare which forbid Americans from being notified prior to enrolling in an exchange plan that the plan would cover abortions and that a hidden surcharge was being assessed to provide abortion coverage.
On Monday, ADF voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit, Doe vs. Burwell, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, after the state created new rules that will require every insurer to offer a plan that does not include elective abortion.
Consumers will now have transparency in choosing a health plan that does not force them to violate their religious beliefs as the new filing instructions will clearly identify plans that do not include elective abortion or a separate abortion payment.
In addition to amending the filing protocols for health care, Rhode Island has also agreed to provide the plaintiff, who is remaining anonymous because he is HIV-positive, with all the benefits of state and federal programs for HIV-positive patients, which include premium assistance and co-pays for his medications. The state has also ensured that he will not be subject to an individual mandate penalty for the months that he was unable to be enrolled in a plan because of the abortion surcharge requirement.
“The government cannot punish pro-life individuals and force them to violate their beliefs in order to obtain the health care they need,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “We hope other states will follow Rhode Island’s example and respect the constitutionally protected freedom of all Americans.”
With the resolution of the case against Rhode Island, only three states — Hawaii, Vermont and New Jersey — still have health exchanges that require all enrollees to pay the hidden Obamacare surcharge to cover elective abortions. ADF currently has a pending lawsuit against federal and state officials in Vermont. A separate ADF lawsuit last year in Connecticut prompted the state to add plans to its health exchange that do not require a separate payment to cover elective abortions.
Rhode Island’s Office of the State’s Health Insurance Commissioner has already included among its form filing instructions for individual and small groups the new rules it has adopted.
HealthSource RI will offer multiple plans at each metal tier level during the 2016 enrollment period that do not provide coverage for elective abortions, and do not require enrollees to pay a mandatory surcharge to cover abortions performed on other individuals.
Barth E. Bracy, executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life, has supported a bill in the General Assembly aimed at increasing the number of health plans available to consumers through the state’s health exchange that do not offer coverage of elective abortion procedures. He said Tuesday that much has been gained in the ADF victory.
“While the settlement is far less than perfect, pro-lifers in Rhode Island should be very grateful to Alliance Defending Freedom and plaintiff John Doe for this major legal victory,” Bracy said.
“Moreover, whether or not a plan covers elective abortion will be more clearly disclosed,” Bracy said, noting that Rhode Island Right to Life will continue to closely monitor HealthSource RI as it implements this settlement, and will inform Rhode Islanders, later this year, as to exactly which plans exclude abortion coverage and fees.
“While this is a clear victory, we will not rest until (1) there is complete parity of plan options for pro-life Rhode Islanders, and (2) we return to the pre-Obamacare Hyde policy whereby no government funds whatsoever are expended to subsidize elective abortions or for insurance plans that include coverage for elective abortion.”