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Crime and Courts

Colorado sues Trump administration over mandate that insurance companies send separate bill for abortion coverage

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser says the policy is an administrative nightmare that intentionally confuses people

The website for Connect for Health Colorado, the state's health insurance exchange, shown in October 2018. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado has joined six other states and the District of Columbia in suing the Trump administration over a rule requiring insurance companies to send a second, separate bill for abortion and other reproductive health coverage. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policy, which went into effect Tuesday, applies to states that allow insurance companies on their individual markets — plans that people buy on their own and don’t get through their employer — to cover abortion and reproductive health. Colorado is among those states. 

In 2019, there were roughly 60 health plans operating in Colorado’s individual insurance market — which provides coverage to about 7% of the state’s population — that included abortion and reproductive health coverage. HHS says the rule is aimed at ensuring that the prohibition on federal funding for coverage of abortion services is upheld.

“Our healthcare programs, including the exchanges, are evolving rapidly, and our program integrity efforts must keep up,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said in a written statement when the rule was rolled out in December.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, however, fears that the rule will create an administrative nightmare for insurance companies and confusion among the insured, potentially even threatening their coverage if they don’t make correct payments. 

“This is an effort  to undo our state’s protections and make life more difficult for patients,” Weiser said. 

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, speaks at a news conference in March 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The attorney general sees the rule change as being part of broader national efforts to roll back women’s access to abortions. “This rule change is one of several efforts that would undermine women’s right to choose,” he said. 

Weiser said he filed the lawsuit after hearing concerns from Colorado’s insurance commission. He’s also worried it could cause insurers to drop their abortion and reproductive health coverage.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment on Thursday.

Wesier’s office has been aggressive in challenging the Trump administration over its abortion policies. It has sued two other times over policies it says are restrictive, including one broadening the ability of health care workers to refuse to provide abortions out of personal or moral objection.

MORE: Here are all the lawsuits against the Trump administration Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has joined

In another case, Weiser is challenging the Trump administration’s so-called gag rule, which bans health clinics that receive Title X family-planning dollars from referring clients for abortion.

Karen Middleton, who runs Colorado’s largest abortion rights group, Cobalt, said the new HHS rule is “clearly designed not just to stigmatize abortion care, but to create confusion about insurance coverage and discourage pregnant people from seeking it.” She said her organization supports Weiser’s lawsuit.

California is leading the lawsuit and it was filed in federal court there. The other states involved are New York, Maine, Maryland, Oregon and Vermont.

Weiser has filed at least 14 lawsuits against the Trump administration since taking office in January 2019.

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