News Law and Policy

California Lawmakers Won’t Allow Insurers to Opt Out of Abortion Coverage

Nina Liss-Schultz

A California assembly committee last week killed a GOP bill that would have allowed insurance companies to exclude abortion coverage from plans for any reason and without penalty.

A California assembly committee last week killed a GOP bill that would have allowed insurance companies to exclude abortion coverage from plans for any reason and without penalty. The bill was introduced in February as a pushback against a recent state policy requiring abortion coverage to be included in private plans.

State officials in August sent a letter to six insurance companies saying that it is against state law for insurance companies to sell plans that don’t include abortion coverage. At least two of the insurance giants—Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente—had sold plans to Catholic universities in California that significantly limited coverage of abortion.

The letter from the Department of Managed Health Care, which approves all insurance plans in the state, called abortion “a basic health care service” and said that insurance plans can’t discriminate against patients’ reproductive choices.

“The California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy,” Michelle Rouillard, director of the DMHC, wrote in her letter to insurers. “Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.”

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AB 1254, introduced by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R), would essentially nullify the DMHC policy by allowing insurers to exclude abortion coverage from plans for whatever reason and without penalty. Religious groups are backing the bill, charging that they are being forced to pay for abortion, in violation of their freedom of conscience.

During an interview with Fox News, Casey Mattox, senior counsel for the right-wing group Alliance Defending Freedom, who spoke during a hearing for the bill, called DMHC’s decision “nonsense.” He said requiring abortion coverage in insurance plans constituted a “bureaucratic sneak attack on religious liberty from California.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom is one of several organizations that last fall filed complaints with the the United States Health and Human Services Department of Civil Rights, alleging that California is discriminating against them.

Health insurance coverage for abortion care has become an issue in a host of state legislatures this year. Texas Republicans this week banned all insurance coverage for abortion care in a party-line vote.

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