Hitch in Health Care Law May Let Congress Members Get Abortion Funds Denied to Other Americans

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Members of Congress and their staffers may get federal funds to pay for abortions, a type of subsidy denied to other Americans who opt into coverage under the new federal health care law that takes effect Jan. 1.

Though the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare,” allows participating insurance companies to offer abortion coverage, the law requires that customers pay a separate premium for that coverage and no federal funds may pay for abortions. The law  requires U.S. citizens to buy health insurance and offers government subsidies for those who can’t afford to pay.

Members of Congress and their staffs are currently on their own health insurance program in which premiums are paid by the government. As of Jan. 1, they are required to switch into the private market.

But to avoid creating a sudden hardship, particularly on congressional staffers who may be young and not especially well-paid, the government agreed to continue paying a share of premiums on the new, private plans.

While some states may ban abortion coverage altogether from the new plans, many will allow it, albeit without federal funding. The agreement for the government to pay congressional premiums on the private market appears to circumvent the ban on federal subsidies or abortion, at least in some states.

“It’s a radical deviation and departure from current federal law,” said New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith, who authored the “Smith Amendment,” banning federal abortion funding.

Despite the outcry from anti-abortion forces, whether federal funds actually will be used to cover abortions remains unclear.

"It would take lawyers hours to decipher the interrelationship between these statutes,” said Walter Francis, an expert of federal health care laws. “And they would probably come to different conclusions.”

Judy Waxman, a leading abortion-rights attorney, shrugged off the issue as irrelevant, saying that no matter what, federal subsidies remain segregated from abortion coverage premiums.

"No federal money will go to abortion," she assured the Associated Press.

SOURCES: Washington Post, Daily Journal