CA Investigates Catholic Universities' Health Plans Limiting Abortion Coverage

By Tatiana Lozano | August 14, 2014 | 11:41am EDT


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( - California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) is investigating whether two Catholic universities that limited abortion coverage for their employees last year must change their health insurance plans to comply with a state law that requires them to cover all “medically necessary” procedures.

Marta Green, the DMHC’s chief deputy director, told the San Francisco Chronicle Monday that the agency launched “an in-depth analysis of the issues surrounding coverage for abortion services under California law" after Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University ended coverage for elective abortions in October 2013.

CNSNews asked the DMHC on Wednesday why it is re-investigating the universities’ actions after the California Lawyer reported in June that the agency, which regulates health plans covering 20 million Californians, has approved similar plans for the universities' insurers since 2008.

DMHC spokesman Rodger Butler replied that “this analysis includes a review of all previously approved health plan documents and consultation with legal experts in areas of state, federal and constitutional law. Once complete, the results of this analysis will inform the DMHC’s position moving forward.”

According to the California Lawyer, Loyola changed its policy last October after RenewLMU, a group aiming to restore the school’s Catholic identity, continually pressured university leaders.

Santa Clara followed soon afterwards as university president Michael Engh, a Jesuit priest, wrote to its faculty that its "core commitments as a Catholic university are incompatible with the inclusion of elective abortion coverage in the University's health plans.”

Both institutions subsequently faced a heavy backlash from faculty wanting to reinstate abortion coverage.

Loyola sociology professor Anna Muraco told the Chronicle that the fact “that [abortion coverage] was even up for debate was a complete shock to most of the people I know on campus. What it's doing is to institutionalize discrimination."

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Santa Clara history professor Nancy Unger told the California Lawyer that "a lot of people like me were outraged. We believed we were entitled to full health care coverage.

"And then Engh doubled down. He did not feel the need to go through the shared governance process, and it caused a lot of unhappiness….Theology is taking precedence over health."

But both universities state that their insurers gave them legal plans when they changed their policies in October.

When CNSNews contacted Loyola spokeswoman Celeste Durant, she repeated a statement she made to the California Lawyer, saying that "[the university] purchased fully insured, approved plans from Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente that excluded elective abortions. The issue is really between the insurance companies and the California Department of Managed Care.”

In the same piece, Santa Clara spokeswoman Deborah Lohse mentioned that its insurers informed them last year that "it was legally possible to exclude elective abortion (abortions that are not medically necessary) coverage from the university's health care plans."

"In 2014, the university was informed by the Department of Managed Health Care that it is currently reviewing what abortions will be required to be covered in health care plans that it regulates,” Lohse continued. “The university understands that this review will also determine what constitutes a medically necessary abortion.”

“Specifics about the university's 2015 health care plans will, as is customary, be made available to university faculty and staff during open enrollment in the fall of this year,” she said. “The university does not have a religious exemption."

However, those who want Catholic universities to uphold church teaching are becoming increasingly concerned about continuing efforts to force them to pay for a procedure that the church not only condemns, but which is punishable by excommunication under canon law.

“California is on the verge of cheating American taxpayers while violating federal law, all for the outrageous purpose of forcing California’s employers—even Catholic educators—to pay for insurance coverage of elective abortion,” Cardinal Newman Society president Patrick J. Reilly asserted in a statement Tuesday.

“Catholics urgently need to oppose this tyranny and discrimination, and demand our rights to religious freedom under the First Amendment. Governor Jerry Brown must know that we will not stand for this,” Reilly declared.

“Given the state of affairs in California, every Catholic school, college and other nonprofits—including LMU and Santa Clara—should look into self-funded insurance plans that are federally regulated,” he added.

“And the rest of us can pray that these Jesuit universities remain steadfast and take additional steps to conform to Catholic teaching, despite intense opposition and discrimination.”

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