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Lawmakers press Obama admin to finish investigation on Calif. rule on abortion coverage

Conservative lawmakers are urging the Obama administration to act on an ongoing investigation into a California requirement that the state's insurers must provide abortion coverage, Politico Pro reports (Haberkorn, Politico Pro, 3/7 [subscription required]).

Background

In August 2014, the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) sent a letter to seven insurers notifying them that all group plans in the state "must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally" in their coverage. The letter came after two Catholic universities in California -- Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University -- changed their employer health insurance policies to no longer cover abortion care unless it is necessary to protect a woman's health.

In October 2014, California Catholic Conference (CCC) filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging that the state DMHC violated the federal Weldon Amendment, which permits the federal government to withhold funding from agencies, state or local governments and other programs for discriminating against hospitals, insurers or physicians over their refusal to participate in care or coverage related to abortion. CCC also alleged that the administrative order directly targeted Catholic institutions.

In December 2014, HHS' Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that it had launched an investigation following CCC's allegations (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/1). California, if found to have violated the rule, could lose about $90 billion in Medicaid, education and other funding allocated through the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies subcommittee (Politico Pro, 3/7).

Investigation ongoing

Earlier this year, HHS spokesperson Ben Wakana said OCR is still investigating the complaint (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/1).

Separately, HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell recently told the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee that she would like the inquiry to move more quickly. However, she did not specify when the investigation should be completed.

She added, "Until it is closed, I'm not at a place to discuss in terms of what the investigation ha[s] yielded or will yield."

Conservatives pressing admin

Conservative lawmakers are considering several strategies to increase pressure on the Obama administration to conclude the investigation.

For example, congressional sources said conservative lawmakers in the Senate indicated they might block the nomination of HHS Deputy Secretary Mary Wakefield.

Further, in the House, some conservative lawmakers want to include language in the Labor-HHS funding bill that would permit organizations to file legal challenges to avoid offering coverage for abortion care (Politico Pro, 3/7). Currently, only HHS can enforce the Weldon Amendment, which must be passed each year in federal appropriations measures (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/1).