Trump Offers Obamacare Exemption to Foes of Abortion Rights

The Trump administration continued its regulatory war on the Affordable Care Act by expanding “hardship exemptions” to the law’s individual mandate for people who claim to object to abortion rights.

[Photo: Patients sit in a waiting room at a health clinic]
According to analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, roughly 26 percent of enrollees live in a place with a single insurer available on the marketplace. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration on Monday expanded the list of Affordable Care Act (ACA) “hardship exemptions,” which waive the fine for lacking health insurance coverage, to include people who object to abortion care.

The new guidelines, issued by the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), allow a person who lives in an area where all affordable health plans in the federal exchange “provide coverage of abortion, contrary to one’s beliefs” to apply for an exemption.

The federal government allows people experiencing “financial situations and other circumstances that keep [them] from getting health insurance” to have fees waived for the months they weren’t covered. These situations can include being homeless, experiencing domestic violence, and experiencing the death of a family member.

While Republicans passed a tax bill last year repealing the ACA’s individual mandate, which required that all have health insurance or risk being fined, it won’t kick in until next year.

Usha Ranji, associate director for women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Rewire.News Tuesday that 26 states already ban marketplace plans from covering abortion.

The change comes after congressional Republicans repeatedly tried and failed to repeal the ACA, or Obamacare. The administration has instead mounted a regulatory war on the health-care reform law.

It’s a reality acknowledged by administration officials. “Ultimately the law needs congressional action to repeal, but until the law changes we won’t stand idly by as Americans suffer,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said about the new guidelines, according to the Washington Post.

Those living in a county, borough, or parish with no qualified health plan or with only one insurer offering plans will also be able to apply for the exemption under the Trump administration’s new guidance. As of August 2017, there were no counties without Obamacare plans available for 2018. But according to analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, roughly 26 percent of enrollees live in a place with a single insurer available on the marketplace.

Though CMS’ guidance did not mention religious or moral objections to abortion rights, the administration—and its Health and Human Services Department, which is stacked with hardline anti-choice activists—have sought ways to insert its religious imposition agenda into the nation’s health-care system.

“It is going to be limited in size and scope but it is very much in-line with the administration’s policies both in regards to the ACA generally and abortion coverage,” Ranji said, pointing to efforts by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to limit abortion coverage.

The guidance was issued alongside a set of rule changes to the ACA, including giving states what it deemed “additional flexibility” in regard to the health-care law’s set of ten essential health benefits, which insurers are required to cover.