Since August, California has been forcing churches and every other employer in the state to provide elective abortion coverage to their employees. Last week, members of Congress grilled Sylvia Burwell, the director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about her agency’s delay in addressing multiple complaints filed with the HHS Office of Civil Rights.
The affected churches and Catholic college employees who filed those complaints argue that California is violating the federal Weldon Amendment, which prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating against insurance plans because they don’t include coverage for abortion.
The California Department of Managed Healthcare has insisted that its action was a mere honest application of California law to a complaint before it. But an e-mail from the agency’s director reveals instead an agency-wide agenda to impose this radical abortion mandate.
Supposedly, when Shelley Rouillard of California’s Department of Managed Healthcare issued that mandate on Aug. 22, she was just doing her job—neutrally applying existing California law to a complaint from some employees at two Catholic colleges who believed their Catholic employer should cover all legal abortions. But here’s how she announced it to the entire staff of the Department of Managed Healthcare:
“I want to update you about an action the Department took yesterday. The DMHC issued letters to seven plans under the [department]’s jurisdiction that have Evidence of Coverage documents on the market that limit or exclude abortion coverage, a basic health service under the Knox Keene Act. The letters inform plans that effective immediately, such Evidence of Coverage language will not be approved.
“In addition, plans with this language in current [document]s must submit revised Evidence of Coverage documents within 90 days with language that complies with the Knox Keene Act and the California Constitution. These letters are available on the What’s New section of the [department’s] homepage. Below is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle that ran this morning. If you have any questions, please talk to your supervisor or your deputy director. There were many individuals who contributed to this important action – it was truly a team effort. Thank you all!”
Perhaps we are becoming numb to how “progressives” use the tools of public power to advance their agenda, but this is not only not what democracy looks like, it’s not even how a state insurance department is supposed to evaluate a citizen complaint against an insurance carrier. It is unlikely that Department of Managed Health Care staff receive similar emails from their director concerning every agency decision. Are evaluations of other insurance complaints a “team effort” of the entire department?
It’s the congratulatory tone that is most telling. Instead of neutral regulators applying the law, the e-mail evokes images of a celebratory sheet cake in the conference room. No doubt Rouillard shares the glee of the chief counsel of Planned Parenthood quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle article Rouillard provided with the e-mail: “We’re thrilled….”
Pursuant to California open records laws, my co-counsel on these complaints, Catherine Short with Life Legal Defense Foundation, has asked for additional e-mails and communications between the department and outside organizations and between department staff concerning this decision. To date, the department has not honored that request.
California’s insurance regulators unquestionably violated the Weldon Amendment by forcing every plan in the state to include elective abortion. Rouillard’s e-mail demonstrates that this was the department’s own agenda, not simply a regulator’s response to a complaint. It is time for HHS to enforce the Weldon Amendment and require California to live up to its bargain with federal taxpayers and the Congress.