Couple sues over abortion coverage in Access Health CT plans
Washington — Thanks to subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, Barth and Abbie Bracy of Dayville can buy a comprehensive health insurance policy through Access Health CT for only $2.63 a month. But they are suing the exchange, and federal officials, over what they say are moral principles.
Barth Bracy is executive director of Rhode Island State Right to Life and a deacon at his Catholic church. He and his wife strongly oppose abortion.
With the help of a conservative, pro-life group, the couple is suing Access Health CT, outgoing Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and other federal officials because they say Connecticut’s health exchange does not offer any policies that exclude abortion coverage.
Their lawsuit alleges they are forced to pay an “abortion surcharge” included in the premiums of all policies sold on the exchange. There are more than 20 individual policies offered on Access Health CT by Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, ConnectiCare and HealthyCT.
“The Bracys are deeply pro-life and object to being forced to pay for procedures that kill innocent human beings,” the complaint says.
Access Health CT Kevin Counihan said the lawsuit was directed at “the Affordable Care Act’s carrier-choice provisions of whether or not to provide for elective abortions,” and he disputed several allegations in the lawsuit.
Casey Mattox, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage and says its mission is to defend religious freedoms, is representing the Bracys. He said “everyone in the Connecticut exchange is paying a separate surcharge for abortion coverage.”
Mattox said the Bracys are also challenging a prohibition imposed by the Affordable Care Act on insurers which prevents them from disclosing how much of the premium is for abortion coverage and whether a particular policy provides abortion coverage.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., introduced a bill last year that would require insurers to advertise abortion coverage in their plans and make public the amount of premium charged for that coverage.
But the legislation has not moved in the GOP-controlled House, which has approved dozens of bills that would repeal or modify the ACA.
Counihan said, “allegations that information regarding plan details and coverage was not available on Access Health CT’s website are untrue.”
“Every plan offered on the exchange is posted with Plan Design Documents,” Counihan said in a statement. “These documents identified that both therapeutic and elective abortions were covered. This information is available during the anonymous shopping experience to all consumers who visited our website and compared coverage plans.”
According to the lawsuit, the Bracys have an Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield HSA plan that costs $494.31 a month. But they received a letter from their insurer telling them the policy would be discontinued in November because it is not ACA compliant. The letter urged the Bracys to purchase a new policy through the exchange.
The Bracys found the Anthem Bronze Direct Access plan is the most similar to their current plan.
Because of applicable subsidies for which they would be entitled under the Affordable Care Act, Anthem BlueCross/BlueShield quoted the couple a premium of $2.63 per month.
But the Bracys discovered, through a third party, that all of the plans on the Connecticut exchange offer abortion coverage.
The couple can buy a policy outside the exchange without that coverage, but their monthly premiums would be $900 or more since they cannot receive subsidies unless they buy a policy offered by the exchange.
The Affordable Care Act requires that, beginning in 2017, all state exchanges offer at least one “multi-state plan” that does not offer abortion coverage.
“But that does very little in the interim,” Mattox said.
Counihan said it was the federal government’s fault that Access Health CT does not have a multi-state plan, “because the Office of Personnel Management of Federal Department of Labor did not submit the necessary paperwork in time to get a multi-state plan on the exchange for the 2014 open enrollment period.”
“However, last year, Access Health CT promised to offer a multi-state plan on the Exchange in 2015, and is currently working to make this happen for the open enrollment period which begins November 15, 2015,” Counihan said.
The lawsuit alleges that the ACA violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Connecticut Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut and assigned to Judge Vanessa Bryant.
The Supreme Court is considering a case brought by the owners of retailer Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties over the ACA’s mandate that all policies cover the cost of birth control – including emergency contraceptives such as Plan B which the owners of those companies object to on religious grounds.
Hobby Lobby contends its “religious beliefs prohibit them from providing health coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices that end human life after conception.”
However, the Bracy lawsuit appears to be the first filed by an individual over abortion coverage.
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