Author archives: Emily Minick

Healthcare Plans Are Not Returnable

by Emily Minick

September 18, 2014

Healthcare is unique among many of the products we commonly purchase in that it is non-returnable.  Healthcare is only available for purchase once a year during “Open Enrollment”, unless one has a qualifying life event. Once you enroll in a healthcare plan, while you can drop your coverage anytime over the course of the year, you cannot enroll in another plan until next open season.

Why is this significant? Well, if you have to purchase healthcare on the ObamaCare exchanges, you are unable to find out due to a secrecy clause in the law whether that particular plan covers elective abortion until after you already enroll and pay. Essentially you have to purchase a plan in order to find out what is in it. A newly released Government Accountability Office (GAO), a non-partisan government watchdog, confirmed in a groundbreaking report this week that there is a lack of transparency regarding abortion coverage in ObamaCare, with 11 out of 18 issuers not informing individuals about elective abortion coverage until after they already enroll in a particular plan.

Let’s say someone finds a plan on their respective state exchange and they enroll and they find out after that the plan includes elective abortion coverage. That individual can either a) drop coverage entirely and unless they have a qualifying life event and go without coverage for the remainder of the plan year, and more than likely be subject to the individual mandate penalty or b) violate their conscience and pay for elective abortion coverage through the abortion surcharge, which is a slush fund used to finance other people’s abortions.

Either way, these are both non-options.

Purchasing a healthcare plan before you are able to find out what is in it is completely unacceptable. Additionally, the long-standing Hyde Amendment to the Labor Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill (LHHS) strictly prohibits federal funding for abortion yet. GAO confirmed in their report, however, that Obamacare subsidizes elective abortion coverage on the exchanges with taxpayer dollars. ObamaCare therefore bypasses the principles of the Hyde Amendment.

We were told that ObamaCare would not subsidize elective abortion with taxpayer funds. I guess we can add this to the long laundry list of ways the Administration has broken their promise when it comes to ObamaCare next to individuals losing their plans, premiums increasing, limited choices and budget busting price tags.

Iowa Judge Upholds Regulations Banning Skype Abortions

by Emily Minick

August 21, 2014

In 2008 Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Iowa began performing what has been termed “skype abortions.” A skype abortion is where the physician never actually physically examines a patient, rather, diagnoses them via a webcast and if the patient qualifies to have a chemical abortion, pushes a button which allows RU-486 to be dispensed to the women seeking an abortion.

In August 2013 the Iowa Board of Medicine passed regulations to ban skype abortions. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland challenged the Iowa Board of Medicine’s decision, and this week Polk County District Jude Jeffrey Farrell, thankfully upheld the state Board of Medicine’s regulations to ban skype abortions.

The Board of Medicine regulations do not ban chemical abortions or the use of RU-486; rather, it places common sense regulations on the practice of dispensing RU-486, specifically requiring a doctor to physically examine the patient before prescribing RU-486 and requiring a follow-up visit, among other provisions.

As more people learn more about the practice of skype abortions, more states will take action to preserve health and safety standards for their citizens and ban this practice.

Court Delivers another Blow to Obamacare

by Emily Minick

July 22, 2014

Earlier this month the Supreme Court ruled that the Obama Administration could not force family businesses, like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, to violate their conscience in order to earn a living.

Another blow to Obamacare was delivered by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals today in a 2-1 decision, Halbig v. Burwell, affirming that the Administration has to follow their own law, as written and can’t either make it up or change it as they go along. The court ruled that federal subsidies to assist individuals in purchasing insurance are only available to those who purchase healthcare through an exchange created by their state, not a federally created exchange in a state. The Affordable Care Act text is extremely clear, only individuals who live in states that have set up their own healthcare exchange are eligible to receive income subsidies to assist in lowering the cost of purchasing healthcare.

The problem is many states did not set up their own exchange for a variety of reasons, including the cost of developing and running an exchange, and in some cases because they disagreed with the principle of Obamacare in general. Even some states that did originally decide to set up a state exchange, like Oregon, later dissolved it due to high cost and joined the federal exchange. This year, 36 states decided to forgo developing and creating their own state exchange and instead opted to have the government create an exchange to operate in their state. Recent news reports also say that Massachusetts, if their exchange is not working properly in time for upcoming 2015 enrollment this fall, will plan on joining the federal exchange in their state.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows for this possibility and says the federal government will create an exchange in the state if the state doesn’t. The issue is the ACA doesn’t say that money can go to the federally created exchange in those states. The Administration funded subsidies in these states anyway and thus the lawsuit with the option delivered today. Individuals in these 36 states who needed to purchase healthcare, if not provided by their employer, looked to the federally created exchanges to satisfy the individual mandate requirement. A recent study by HHS found that 87 percent of individuals who purchased healthcare on the federally created exchange were eligible to receive an income subsidy.

Now, this ruling could derail the entire Obamacare train.

  1. Plans on the healthcare exchanges were not as cheap as individuals originally thought they would be. Between high deductibles, high monthly premium costs, and lack of participating providers in certain designated areas, people did receive a sticker shock when they shopped on the marketplace last year. Now, if this ruling stands, individuals will not have the luxury of having the high cost of premiums masked by income subsidies if their state did not set up their own exchange.
  2. Assuming that no other states back out of operating their own exchange this upcoming plan year, individuals in 36 states will have to cover the entire cost of healthcare premiums on their own. This could result in thousands of individuals opting to pay the tax penalty rather than pay for the high cost of many of these exchange plans. If less people purchase healthcare, especially young people, there will be less healthy people in the pool, which could raise rates even more because healthcare insurance companies will have to compensate for the cost of covering pre-existing conditions.
  3. If there is one thing that Americans should realize about Obamacare by now, it’s that the executive branch does not have the power to write the law, enforce the law and interpret the law however it sees fit. The executive is in charge of faithfully executing the law. To date there have been 42 changes to Obamacare. Today’s ruling affirms that the President cannot change a law just because it is unpopular.

What does this ruling mean for average Americans? The ruling in Halbig v. Burwell affirms that the President cannot pick and choose what parts of the law he wants to follow. This ruling also illustrates to the American people that Obamacare really is as bad as Republicans said it would be. The Administration cannot mask high premiums, failed state exchanges, broken websites, and unenforced provisions with income subsides to those prohibited from receiving them according to the text of the Affordable Care Act.

A Defense of Religious Liberty on the Senate Floor

by Emily Minick

July 10, 2014

This week, Senator Coats went to the Senate floor to speak on the issue of religious liberty and the HHS mandate. The HHS mandate requires all private and employer based healthcare plans to cover contraceptives, drugs which can destroy a human embryo and sterilization services, without copay, under threat of crippling fines.

You can watch Senator Coats’ defense of Wheaton College, who just received an emergency injunction from the Supreme Court against the HHS mandate, here. Wheaton College is a non-profit challenging the Obama administration’s HHS mandate “accommodation”, which is nothing more than an accounting gimmick.

The Illusion of Healthcare Choice in Obamacare

by Emily Minick

May 8, 2014

Sylvia Burwell is testifying this morning before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the first stop in her confirmation process to become the next secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to replace retiring HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Unfortunately, a new face for the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” will not re-write this law’s troubling past, nor its rocky future.

President Obama touted this law as a new frontier in healthcare choice, affordability and flexibility. HHS writes, “The Affordable Care Act puts consumers back in charge of their health care. Under the law, a new ‘Patient’s Bill of Rights’ gives the American people the stability and flexibility they need to make informed choices about their health.”

Choice in healthcare under Obamacare is only a mirage, however – a mere talking point, especially when it comes to whether abortion is included in a particular healthcare plan on the exchanges. Individuals who want to be informed about whether a particular healthcare plan covers elective abortion are not given this information at all under this law. This troubles Americans across the political spectrum.

Indeed, Obamacare contains an “abortion secrecy clause” in Section 1303(b)(3) which prohibits individuals from finding out whether a specific plan on the healthcare exchange covers elective abortion until before enrollment and only allows information on abortion at the time of enrollment in the summary of benefits documents. Additionally, the amount of the separate “abortion surcharge” that enrollees must pay as part of these plans is also not disclosed in the monthly premium. Essentially, you have to buy a plan before you can find out what is in it, and you may never find out how much the abortion coverage for which you are paying costs you each month. This is hardly surprising coming from a law that then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declared we needed to pass before we could find out what was in it.

American consumers are out of luck whether they are looking for a plan that includes abortion coverage or for a plan that excludes abortion.

Millions of Americans received their infamous healthcare cancellation notice in the mail last fall informing them that their healthcare plan, which they liked and could afford, would be cancelled and made illegal due to Obamacare.

Among those Americans was Barth Bracy, a resident of Connecticut. Bracy, needing to purchase healthcare for himself and his family, looked at plans available on his state exchange to satisfy the law’s individual mandate. Like many Americans, Bracy has religious and moral objections to paying for other people’s abortions and in order to qualify for a healthcare subsidy, he has to purchase a plan on the Connecticut state exchange. Due to the abortion secrecy clause however, he was unable to find out what plans did and did not cover abortion on Connecticut’s state exchange. Later he found that every plan in Connecticut’s exchange covered abortion – a fact the Guttmacher Institute confirmed. This is in clear violation of federal law, which requires that for Multi-State plans run by the government in exchanges, at least one excludes abortion coverage.

For Connecticut residents like Bracy, there is no healthcare choice under Obamacare. Bracy can either violate his conscience and purchase a healthcare plan that includes abortion coverage on the state exchange when his current plan expires, or be fined by the IRS for non-compliance with the individual mandate and forgo healthcare coverage for his family, or give up the subsidy and purchase a more expensive plan off the exchange in order to avoid violating his conscience. Bracy, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), has filed suit in federal court (Bracy v. Sebelius) is alleging violations of the federal and state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, the Free Exercise Clause, and his right to receive information under the Free Speech Clause.

Americans should be able to clearly identify what healthcare plans do and do not cover. Abortion coverage in healthcare plans should be as identifiable as the plans’ deductible, co-pay and other covered procedures. Americans should not have to pay an abortion surcharge if their plan does cover abortion.

Burwell will have a tough task ahead of her in her confirmation hearing. She not only will have to defend the trillion-dollar price tag of this law but also its blatant violation of the separation of powers by the administration, which has delayed key provisions of the law over 30 times, the law’s violation of the principle of the long-standing Hyde Amendment, the destruction of the 40-hour work-week in America, and why the Obama administration refuses to provide even the most basic transparency when it comes to abortion coverage in healthcare plans.

Burwell must answer why Obamacare is denying choice to millions of Americans as a result of the abortion secrecy clause.

Grocery stores don’t hide nutrition labels on food packages. Car dealerships don’t deny potential customers the opportunity to test-drive a vehicle. Similarly, Americans should not be kept in the dark about what healthcare plans do and do not cover.

The next HHS secretary should assume responsibility for the lack of transparency in Obamacare and should commit the Department to working with Congress and the administration to eliminate the abortion secrecy clause.

Ethical Concerns Surrounding Three Parent Embryos Raised on Capitol Hill

by Emily Minick

April 11, 2014

Last month, an FDA Advisory Committee held a hearing examining mitochondrial disease prevention with the creation of three-parent embryos.

Mitochondria are organelles in every cell of the body that are responsible for creating energy. These mitochondria contain their own DNA genes, but mutations in mitochondrial DNA can result in serious diseases and genetic disorders. There have been various proposals to attempt to treat these disorders by mitochondrial replacement therapy, and one proposal that the FDA Advisory Committee recently discussed was the creation of three parent-embryos.

Three-parent embryos are created by various techniques with the intent that the new embryos be healthy and without a genetic disorder. One technique uses an egg from a mother with the genetic disorder and removes the nucleus of that egg, placing the nucleus into the cytoplasm of a healthy egg that has had its own nucleus removed. Then using that recombined new healthy egg it is fertilized with a father’s sperm resulting in the creation of an embryo with genetics from three parents.

There are numerous scientific uncertainties surrounding three parent embryos. There is sparse scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of these techniques. Additionally, there is virtually no evidence to support safety or health results for three-parent children born from these techniques. Plus, one wonders about the impact of this procedure on future offspring, including the unintended side effects of genetic engineering of human beings.

There are also serious ethical questions that need to be answered first, and which were raised to the Advisory Committee during their hearing. These techniques would destroy human embryos for the purpose of science. Additionally, the annual Dickey Wicker Amendment prohibits federal funding for human embryo harm or destruction. Although many presenters who gave oral testimony at the FDA Advisory Committee, including FRC’s Dr. David Prentice, focused on the ethical questions surrounding three parent embryos, the Committee said that they were not focusing on whether the FDA should approve this technique, but rather how they would go about creating three parent embryos.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) both raised concerns recently about three parent embryos to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg during Congressional hearings.

Commissioner Hamburg admitted that she knows there are ethical concerns regarding this issue, yet the FDA is not the appropriate agency to address those concerns. If the FDA is not the appropriate agency to consider the ethical concerns with this technique, about which they held a public Advisory Committee hearing, who is responsible to address these concerns?

Commissioner Hamburg’s response regarding the ethical controversy surrounding three-parent embryos raises more concerns that the FDA may actually continue to proceed forward with this human experiment, and even produce guidance for scientists who wish to proceed with the creation and gestation of genetically-designed babies.

Another Whack at Common Core by Teacher’s Union

by Emily Minick

February 20, 2014

Common Core is turning out to be a Common Disaster.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the largest teacher union, wrote a letter to the union’s three million members calling the Common Core rollout, “completely botched.” This is a blow to the standards and assessments many thought were a consensus among educators and states across the country to prepare students for college.

In recent months there has been a steady stream of teacher unions, teachers, parents and government officials expressing their concern over Common Core and hesitation about its rapid rollout and implementation timeline. Common Core is a state initiative that the Obama Administration is pushing and is already being incorporated in schools across the country, with full implementation required by the 2014-2015 school year.

Common Core removes local accountability for a child’s education. Presently, if a parent is concerned about their child’s education or teaching material in the school, there is a direct course of action for a parent to raise their concerns. With Common Core, however, that course of action and accountability between parents and teachers is muddled, at best, and completely removes accountability from the local school, teacher and even the state.

This is because Common Core was written, developed, and adopted with little input from parents and educators. Now, with 45 states and the District of Columbia having adopted the standards, educators and parents are learning that their child’s education is suffering, and there is little they can do because the standards and assessments are already written, being taught in school, and only allowed limited revisions.

In his letter to the union members, Dennis Van Roekel stressed the fact that the frustration with the standards are not isolated, citing the fact that 70% of teachers believe the implementation of Common Core is going poorly in their schools.

This statistic is astonishing. Developers of the Common Core standards and assessments seem to have forgotten that educators and parents should be consulted about what is taught in the classroom.

The People’s House Voted Today to Protect Taxpayers from Paying for Abortion

by Emily Minick

January 28, 2014

Today the House debated and passed H.R. 7, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and the Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act” sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL). Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) controlled debate today on the House floor and defended the will of an overwhelming majority of Americans who are opposed to paying for other people’s abortions and want the government to be neutral when it comes to the funding of abortion.

This bill is extremely simple- it would permanently codify the Hyde Amendment, and other pro-life provisions, in federal law and across government programs.

Some may ask, “Why is this bill necessary since the Hyde Amendment is currently law”?

The answer to this is very clear, the passage of H.R. 7 is necessary because each year the Hyde Amendment needs to be re-authorized. Additionally, Obamacare bypasses the Hyde Amendment and directly appropriates funds to assist individuals, via the form of tax credits, in purchasing healthcare which could include abortion coverage.

Obamacare violates the principles of the Hyde Amendment, despite the President’s claim that the passage of his signature law would not violate Hyde’s principles.

Even with the Hyde Amendment’s annual renewal, there have been times in recent history where the government has funded abortion. Hyde doesn’t cover other funding streams outside of the Department of Health and Human Services and Medicaid. Despite the fact that Hyde was in effect, in 2009 Congress failed to include the Dornan Amendment, which prohibits government funds from paying for abortions in the District of Columbia, and for a period of a year and a half taxpayers paid for 300 abortions totaling $185,000. This, despite the fact that Hyde was in effect.

The principles of the Hyde Amendment need to be permanently codified and applied across federal funding streams.

Besides the fact that Obamacare bypasses the Hyde Amendment and uses taxpayer dollars to assist individuals in paying for abortions, it also prevents individuals from knowing whether or not a healthcare plan includes abortion coverage, until after they already pay and enroll. Transparency is necessary to good governance and lawmaking. H.R. 7 would require that whether or not a plan covers abortion be prominently displayed at the time of enrollment, so individuals can make an informed decision.

As we saw today on the House floor, opponents of the bill can make up a lot of excuses as to why this bill should not pass, yet they fail to address the issue at hand, the issue of eliminating the taxpayer’s role in abortion.

Nothing in this bill would prevent a woman from having an abortion, purchasing a healthcare plan which includes abortion coverage with her own funds, or prohibit women in the District of Columbia from having an abortion.

For over 30 years the Hyde Amendment has recognized that abortion is not healthcare, and thus the taxpayer should have no role in the funding of abortion. This bill applies these principles across the government. Today the people’s house voted to protect taxpayers, women and their unborn children.

2013: The Year of the Obamacare Exemption

by Emily Minick

December 23, 2013

For Obamacare, 2013 can most certainly be deemed the year of the exemption. As this year comes to a close, let’s take a look at what is at stake starting January 1, 2014, and what groups have been exempted from the law.

Who Hasn’t Yet Received An Exemption from Obamacare?

Religious employers and businesses run from a faith perspective.

On January 1, 2014, the HHS mandate’s safe harbor for religious employers and businesses run from a faith perspective, like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Inc., will expire and employers will either be forced to violate their conscience and include sterilization services, drugs which can destroy a human embryo and contraception in their healthcare plan, pay fines of up to $100 per day per employee for not-complying, or dropping healthcare coverage for their employees altogether.

The start of the New Year will usher in the first time in this country’s history that the federal government would force individuals to purchase a product, to which they morally object. Forcing businesses to comply, or be fined, is no choice.

A new FRC/ADF poll found that more likely voters disapprove of the HHS mandate (59%) than disapprove of Obamacare in its entirety (54%). A just released CNN poll also found that 62% of Americans disapprove of the law, and including 60% of women.

Why are religious employers and individuals still waiting for an exemption while the Administration has unilaterally, without the approval of Congress, granted countless exemptions and concessions to other groups, in violation of their own signature law?

Who Has Received An Exemption from Obamacare?

Some of the exemptions granted are parts of the law supporters have deemed essential to its functioning.

  • Obamacare’s employer mandate, which requires that employers with 50 or more employees provide healthcare coverage or pay a fine of $2,000 per employee per year, has been delayed by one year until 2015.
  • Operation of the federal small business healthcare exchange (SHOP) has been delayed for a year, until November 2014.
  • Healthcare plans which do not meet Obamacare’s new standards have been exempted, allowing individuals to keep their plans which the law deems uncompliant for a year.
  • Those whose plans have been cancelled can qualify for a “hardship” exemption and apply for a catastrophic plan, or even forgo healthcare coverage for an entire year without penalty.

It was also just announced that the Administration has extended the deadline to sign up for health insurance on the federal healthcare exchange by another day, until Christmas Eve, in an effort to shore up higher enrollment numbers.

These numerous exemptions has even led Chuck Todd, an MSNBC correspondent, to recently say, “If you put together all the different ways that they have delayed or grandfathered certain things in … I’m starting to wonder if anybody is ever going to pay the penalty in the first year.”

The gaping holes in the Obamacare ship are expanding, yet the Administration remains insistent on making religious employers one of the only groups that must comply with this failing law.

Although the Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases challenging the HHS mandate on religious liberty grounds, Congress must act to protect individuals and businesses from the HHS mandate, if they morally object to providing these drugs and services to their employees. Forcing religious employers to choose between paying crippling fines, or dropping coverage for their employees and their families, is not good for the economy, the country and women. The HHS mandate is the next instance of how Obamacare could impact your life, your job, or your healthcare.

Let us hope that this New Year the HHS mandate is the next part of Obamacare that the Supreme Court will find unconstitutional.

Liberty Takes a Back Seat This New Year with the HHS Mandate

by Emily Minick

December 19, 2013

Out with the old and in with the new! This New Year as many of us re-evaluate our lives and make our yearly resolutions there is also another big change which is taking place in Washington.

On January 1, 2014 the HHS mandate will take effect, which requires all healthcare plans to cover FDA approved drugs which can destroy a human embryo, sterilization services and contraception, without copay. This is the first time that the federal government will require individuals to purchase a product or services, to which they morally object.

Religious non-profits, businesses and individuals will be forced to violate their conscience and purchase a healthcare plan which includes these drugs and services, to which they object, or face crippling fines.

This New Year, there is a lot at stake when it comes to ObamaCare and the HHS mandate.

In fact, a new FRC/ADF poll found that more people oppose the HHS mandate (59%), than oppose ObamaCare as a whole (54%).

This spring the Supreme Court will hear two cases challenging the HHS mandate on religious liberty grounds, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.

These are some of the most important cases the Supreme Court will hear this term. Freedom of religion and conscience extends to one’s healthcare plan and something we hope that Supreme Court will recognize this spring.

To learn what is at stake with the pending Supreme Court cases, check out a new Campaign for Liberty’s blog post which explains that the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case is about rights and liberty, not contraception.