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State Officials: Insurers in California Cannot Limit Abortion Coverage

Nina Liss-Schultz

In letters sent Friday to Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente, California officials said that it is against state law for insurers to opt out of comprehensive coverage of abortion, "a basic health care service."

In letters sent Friday to two insurance giants—Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente—California officials said that it is against state law for insurers to opt out of comprehensive coverage of abortion, “a basic health care service.”

The letters, obtained by San Francisco Chronicle writer Bob Egelko, were sent to both insurance providers in response to the companies’ decisions to offer plans that only include coverage for “medically necessary” abortions.

Both insurance companies had sold plans to two Catholic universities in California that significantly limited coverage of abortion. Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles had already changed its insurance plans to not cover certain kinds of abortion. The changes to the Santa Clara University policy were set to take effect in 2015. Both universities have more than 1,000 employees.

According to Egelko, the letters, sent by the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), an agency tasked with approving all insurance plans in the state, say that “abortion is a basic health care service,” and that “the California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy. Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.”

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The DMHC recently decided to review its initial decision to allow Anthem and Kaiser to limit their policies for the colleges. A spokesperson for the DMHC told Rewire that it was “currently engaged in an in-depth analysis of the issues surrounding coverage for abortion services under California law. … Once complete, the results of this analysis will inform the DMHC’s position moving forward.”

Since 1975, state law has required that all health insurance plans cover all “medically necessary” services. In its review, the DMHC found that insurers cannot lawfully distinguish between “elective” and medically necessary abortion, thereby requiring their coverage in all cases.

Earlier this month, abortion access advocates sent a letter to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown asking him to reverse the insurers’ cutbacks to abortion services.

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