Obama Admin Hides Public Comments Against Obamacare Mandate

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 21, 2011   |   10:54AM   |   Washington, DC

The Obama administration today is coming under fire from pro-life advocates who submitted tens of thousands of public comments opposing a new mandate that would force insurance companies to cover birth control, contraception and drugs that may cause abortions.

The administration has initially approved a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine suggesting that it force insurance companies to pay for birth control and drugs that can cause abortions under the Obamacare government-run health care program.

The IOM recommendation, opposed by pro-life groups, called for the Obama administration to require insurance programs to include birth control — such as the morning after pill or the ella drug that causes an abortion days after conception — in the section of drugs and services insurance plans must cover under “preventative care.” The companies will likely pass the added costs on to consumers, requiring them to pay for birth control and, in some instances, drug-induced abortions of unborn children in their earliest days.

Several leading pro-life groups — including the Family Research Council and the nation’s Catholic bishops, among others — had led the charge to urge pro-life Americans to speak out against the recommendation, the mandate to force coverage and the lack of conscience protections of religious groups that don’t want to be forced to purchase insurance coverage with those objectionable provisions to send comments to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Even though tens of thousands of pro-life Americans have done so, Jeanne Monahan of FRC says the Obama administration is not making those comments public, as promised.

“On September 30th, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) received thousands of negative comments related to the interim final rule published on August 3rd where all insurance plans were informed that they must cover the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives with no co-pay,” Monahan explains. “A very narrowly defined conscience exemption for religious organizations was included which, in essence, covers only places of worship and was originally drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for a bill in California.”

“Curious to read some of the comments and get a sense of volume, this week I perused the official regulatory website of the government, regulations.gov,” she continues. “Recall that the language from the rule indicated that comments would be posted publicly: ‘All comments are posted on the Internet exactly as received, and can be retrieved by most Internet search engines.'”

“Much to my surprise, my search led me to only a very small number of comments — under 100,” Monahan says. “Knowing that FRC constituents alone submitted close to 12000 comments, and that USCCB constituents filed close to 60,000 comments, I was surprised and assumed I was searching incorrectly.”

Monahan called the regulations.gov helpline and had a customer service representative walk her through the process to assure her she was accessing the web site correctly.

“At the end of that conversation together we located only 58 comments,” Monahan says. “I then asked the customer service representative if HHS may withhold certain comments. The representative ironically began by telling me that the ‘Obama Administration is committed to transparency’ but then told me that HHS has control over what they post.”

The HHS accepted the IOM guidelines that “require new health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services” and those services include “FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling” — which include birth control drugs like Plan B and ella that can cause abortions. The Health and Human Services Department commissioned the report from the Institute, which advises the federal government and shut out pro-life groups in meetings leading up to the recommendations.

“These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, an abortion advocate, said in a statement LifeNews received.

Sebelius said new health plans will be required to include coverage with plan years beginning on or after August 1, 2012 but that also exempts group health plans sponsored by certain religious employers, though the exemptions are very narrowly drawn.

Monahan, director of Family Research Council’s Center for Human Dignity, which covers pro-life, issues, panned the IOM report and HHS’ decision to adopt it.

“The mandate will include FDA-approved drugs like Ella and Plan B that are misleadingly labeled ‘emergency contraceptives’ despite the fact that they can actually destroy a developing baby prior to or after implanting in the mother’s womb. HHS failed to address this problem in the interim rule published today despite many public comments on this very issue,” she told LifeNews.

She also said the conscience protections were not sufficient.

“HHS offered a fig leaf of conscience protection for certain churches that fulfill very specific criteria. However, religious groups that provide social services, engage in missions work to people of different religious faiths, religious health insurance companies, let alone religious health care providers and individuals in such health plans are not protected from any discrimination whatever. The new rule will force many Americans to violate their consciences or refrain from participating in health care insurance, further burdening an already costly system,” Monahan said.

“For an administration that promised to protect conscience laws in effect now, this decision completely ignores opinion, research and science that do not support a pro-abortion ideology. In the words of one of the committee members who objected to the IOM recommendations, the ‘evaluation for evidence lacked transparency … the process tended to result in a mix of objective and subjective determination through the lens of advocacy,” Monahan continued. “This administration is promoting mandates that will violate the consciences of millions.”

Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest also weighed in in opposition to it.

“Ideologically-driven recommendations became policy,” Yoest noted, “when the Obama Administration adopted the Institute of Medicine recommendations. Nearly every American will be forced to pay for the abortion-inducing drug ella in the name of ‘preventive care.’ In addition, the conscience rights of Americans who choose not to distribute life-ending prescriptions may be trampled.”

As part of the health care reform process, AUL’s attorneys testified about the guidelines during hearings held by the Institute of Medicine. However, among the groups chosen to effectively help write the health care plan for all Americans was Planned Parenthood.

AUL attorneys noted that the Obama Administration has offered an exceedingly narrow conscience protection that leaves the majority of pro-life Americans vulnerable by so narrowly defining the concept of “religious employer,” that most religious schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations would be excluded from its protection. Moreover, an organization such as AUL and its sister organization, Americans United for Life Action — with pro-life missions, but no religious affiliation — are unquestionably unprotected by the Administration’s fig-leaf conscience protection.

“The preventive care provision of the health care law was intended to prevent diseases, not to end pregnancies,” said Yoest. “Americans United Life Action urges Congress to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, H.R. 1179, to address today’s unconscionable mandate.”

But NARAL, a top pro-abortion organization, supports the Obama administration’s decision.

Bill Saunders of Americans United for Life is also concerned about the recommendations:

PPACA requires all private health insurance plans to provide coverage of “preventive care for women,” not just those plans participating in the insurance exchanges that the law requires be established by 2014. These services must be covered without cost-sharing, meaning these services must be fully covered without a co-pay.  Significantly, this means that no American will be able to choose a health insurance plan that does not cover what is determined to be “preventive care for women.”

Instead of defining “preventive care” in the statute, Congress left this determination to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Tasked with advising HHS, the IOM serves an important role in determining what constitutes “preventive care for women.”

At the IOM’s three public meetings on “preventive care,” groups that were invited to present to IOM on “women’s issues” nearly all took a public stance in favor of abortion.  The list included Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, who stands to gain financially if abortion and abortion-inducing drugs are included in this mandate.  This huge conflict of interest was not disclosed at the meeting.

At the IOM meetings, nearly every official presenter urged that all FDA approved contraceptives be included in the preventive care mandate.  Such a definition would require coverage for so-called emergency contraceptives, including ella, which can kill a human embryo even after implantation.  Thus, if “contraception” is included in the definition of “preventive care,” Americans will be forced to subsidize abortion-causing drugs with their insurance premiums.  And that is precisely what we expect the IOM will announce on Wednesday.

Pro-life groups may call on members of Congress to pass legislation that would further mitigate the effects of the HHS adoption of the regulations.