Trump administration cuts $ 200 million in health care in California for abortions

SACRAMENTO – The Trump administration said on Wednesday it would withhold $ 200 million in federal funding for California’s health care because the state requires insurers to cover abortions, escalating a highly politicized battle just weeks before President Trump is stepping down.

Earlier this year, the administration warned California that he could lose federal funding on its 2014 regulation requiring employers and private insurance plans to pay for abortions. The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that the state was in violation of a federal law, known as the Weldon Amendment, prohibiting discrimination against insurers and health care providers who refuse to offer health services. abortion – a reversal of the position of the Obama administration.

Because California has refused to come into compliance, the federal government will withhold $ 200 million in funding for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, for the fiscal quarter starting in January, Roger Severino, director of the office of civil rights health and social services said Wednesday.

“Entities that receive funds from HHS should think twice before flouting federal law and refusing to comply,” Severino said in a statement. “Whatever one thinks about the legality of abortion, no one should be punished for refusing to pay or helping to take a human life.”

The Department of Health and Human Services said it plans to withhold an additional $ 200 million each fiscal quarter so that California does not give up its abortion coverage mandate. It is, however, a fraction of the $ 76 billion in federal funding the state expected to receive for its Medicaid program in the 2020-21 fiscal year, according to the state’s Department of Finance.

With President-elect Joe Biden due to take over in January, however, the next administration could reverse its decision. Biden appointed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, an abortion right supporter, to head of health and social services.

A spokesperson for Becerra said his office had not yet received anything official on the action of the Trump administration and referred to a letter in February when Becerra and Governor Gavin Newsom defended the legality of California regulations.

“California has the sovereign right to protect the reproductive rights of women. Political demagoguery should never interfere with this, ”Becerra said at the time, accusing the Trump administration of illegally expanding the scope of the Weldon Amendment.

Newsom said in a statement, “Women’s health is public health. It is wrong that the Trump administration is threatening the health of Californians just to score cheap political points – and during a global pandemic. We will continue to defend reproductive health and fight against this extreme presidential drift. “

California’s insurance rule led insurers to suspend seven health plans that did not cover abortions, forcing 28,000 people to abandon those plans. Federal and state authorities previously upheld the rule before the Trump administration opposed it.

Under then-President Barack Obama, the Health and Human Service’s civil rights office rejected a complaint filed by anti-abortion groups in 2016. The office concluded that the “right of conscience” protecting workers from health and abortion hospitals did not extend to health insurance companies. , because the companies covered the procedure at the request of the customers.

Last year the California Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the regulation of a Catholic missionary organization, leaving a state appeals court ruling that voluntary abortions are “medically necessary” procedures that health plans must cover.

Two months later, the Trump administration cited the challenge of the mission group by uttering its threat to cut funding to California. The warning came hours before Trump became the first president to attend the March for Life, the annual anti-abortion rally in Washington, DC

In a statement, Jodi Hicks, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, called the funding cut a “tyrannical move.”

“The Trump administration’s latest political coup to punish California for providing coverage for abortion services, amid a global health crisis, is simply cruel and oppressive,” she said.

Alexei Koseff is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @akoseff

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