By FRC's Connor Semelsberger
As the clock ticks closer to the election, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, are representing their respective parties in the latest bout of COVID-19 relief negotiations. The problem with this set up is that there has only been two people involved in negotiating a measure with a trillion dollar price tag and thousands of pages of legislative text without any broader deliberation from the people's representatives. This type of closed door deal making opens the door for several partisan wish list priorities to be snuck in without much consent from Congress. Of specific concern is a provision in the latest House passed package, which would expand premium tax credits for Obamacare plans that cover elective abortion.
Obamacare set up a framework in which states have the ability to determine if their plans cover elective abortion or not. As of 2020, 26 states have opted out of elective abortion coverage. However, of the remaining 24 states that allow elective abortion coverage, 9 states have abortion-only plan options. Obamacare plans that cover abortion are further subsidized through tax credits that help individuals pay the premiums for these health insurance plans. Currently, only individuals and families that are between 100-400 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for a tax credit, however the current proposal in the House passed coronavirus relief plan would expand tax credit eligibility for anyone who has received unemployment insurance during the pandemic, regardless of their income.
This expansion of Obamacare tax credits would dramatically increase the amount of tax subsidies that go to plans that cover abortion. In 2019, an estimated 2.2 million people received a total of $11.8 billion dollars in premium tax credits for plans that cover elective abortion. If the income eligibility requirement was removed during the pandemic, the amount of tax subsidies that fund abortion plans could increase by millions or even billions. It may appear that this proposal would only be a temporary measure to help hurting individuals during the coronavirus pandemic, but many times expansions to federal programs in response to a crisis become permanent law. This would exacerbate the ongoing issue that Obamacare directly subsidizes abortion, mainly for the individuals that live in a state like California which requires all health insurance plans to cover abortion, a policy that is in violation of longstanding federal law.
Americans have every reason to be eager for Congress to pass a relief package, but the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic should not stop us from holding our elected representatives accountable for the legislation they pass. If anything, the current circumstances have provided the perfect opportunity for Americans to have an honest debate about our healthcare system and opportunities for reform. Republicans have raised legitimate concerns about Obamacare's inflexibility, high premiums, and funding of abortion, but this does not mean they are opposed to every aspect of the Affordable Care Act. For example, President Trump recently signed an Executive Order protecting those with pre-existing conditions, a measure that both parties support.
As negotiations over coronavirus relief measures and how they will impact our healthcare system long-term continue, it is important to understand that the debate surrounding healthcare is nuanced. But what Congress should know is that prohibiting funding for abortion, protecting the consciences of healthcare employees, and providing flexible, affordable options for working class families are not up for negotiation.