On Friday, a federal judge blocked a new Affordable Care Act (ACA) abortion requirement. The regulation was announced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2019 and would have required ACA healthcare providers to issue a separate bill for abortion coverage.

Margaret Murray, the CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, stated that the decision was “a major win for access to care” and that “as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten Americans and our health care system we urge HHS to implement policies that promote access to care, not wrap coverage in red tape”

HHS announced the new requirement in December 2019, with plans to enforce it by June 27. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that date was pushed back to August 26. In February, Planned Parenthood of Maryland filed a lawsuit against the regulation. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and  Planned Parenthood Federation of America represented the plaintiffs.

The HHS requirement would’ve forced insurers on the ACA exchange to provide separate bills for abortion coverage.

Under the Hyde Amendment, federal funds cannot be used to cover abortions – except in cases of rape, incest, or to save someone’s life. Insurers on the ACA exchange that cover abortion already must place enrollee’s abortion payments into a separate account. HHS stated their new regulation was an effort to ensure federal funds were separate from abortion care and in accordance with Congress’ “intent for (participating insurers) to collect two distinct payments, one for the coverage of (relevant) abortion services, and one for coverage of all other services covered.”

US District Court Judge Catherine Blake refuted the regulation, finding it an “unreasonable barrier” to healthcare access – which is in violation of the ACA. Blake stated the rule could result in people losing access to their health insurance. This might be due to insurers removing abortion coverage because the regulation is too burdensome, or due to enrollees missing a payment because they must keep track of multiple bills. Blake did not find a need for additional oversight regarding federal funds or a strong connection between the requirement and Congress’ intent.

The president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement: “Today is a huge victory for the people who need and deserve access to safe, legal abortion… abortion is essential health care, and this rule was an obvious attempt by the Trump administration to put it out of reach for millions of people in the country.”

Sources: CNN 07/13, Planned Parenthood 07/13, Planned Parenthood Action Fund 07/13, ACLU 07/13, Fierce Healthcare 07/13

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