STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's yet another controversy over the Affordable Care Act. Online health insurance marketplaces tell you many things about the different plans you might shop for. But in general, it is hard to find out if a health plan covers abortion services.
The question of how the various health plans would or would not pay for abortion was one of the very last issues settled before the bill was passed. And its invisibility on the website has some people pretty upset. NPR's Julie Rovner reports.
JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: The issue of abortion coverage in the health exchanges came up on Wednesday, when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was testifying on Capitol Hill. Here's how the question was posed by Illinois Republican John Shimkus.
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REP. JOHN SHIMKUS: If someone - a constituent of mine, or someone in this country - has strongly held pro-life views, can you commit to us to make sure that the federal exchanges that offer that is clearly identified and so people can understand if they're going to buy a policy that has abortion coverage or not? Because right now, you cannot make that determination.
ROVNER: Sebelius appeared to be caught off-guard by the question.
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SECRETARY KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: I don't know. I know exactly the issue you're talking about. I will check and make sure that that is clearly identifiable.
ROVNER: But at least for now, it's not clearly identifiable, those on both sides of the abortion debate agree. Chuck Donovan is president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion think-tank.
CHUCK DONOVAN: The exchanges have a complicated scheme of including, by law, at least one plan that does not include coverage of elective abortion.
ROVNER: That was the deal that got the law passed, so that abortion opponents could avoid policies that cover the procedure. But he says that not only is the information not on the website; sometimes it's not easily available by calling, either.
DONOVAN: We did what we were recommended to do, and that is call the individual insurers. And in many cases, they don't have plan documents in front of them as they talk to you on the phone.
ROVNER: Now, it should be noted that in 23 states, there is little question. Those states have passed laws that ban all plans in the health exchange from offering coverage for elective abortion. Eight of those states have also banned private insurers outside the exchange from offering coverage for abortion as well. Most, but not all, include exceptions for life endangerment, rape or incest. Some of those states allow abortion coverage to be sold as a separate policy - called a rider - but so far, there's no evidence that any plan is offering that. Judy Waxman, of the National Women's Law Center, says this is a major change from what's traditionally been the status quo for abortion coverage in private health plans.
JUDY WAXMAN: Abortion has generally been covered because it is treated like any other medical service, and is just part of outpatient care or doctor care and really, has not been singled out very much in private insurance.
ROVNER: But the fight over the Affordable Care Act changed that. In order to ensure that no taxpayer money went to pay for elective abortions, it created a very complex system by which insurance companies would have to separate out a portion of each premium if they wanted to continue to offer abortion as a covered benefit. Waxman says as a result, there's at least anecdotal evidence that some insurers are dropping coverage - at least, for this first year - just because of the added hassle.
WAXMAN: We had heard that some plans are saying that they are not going to offer it now because they have so much to figure out; and this little, extra administrative activity they have to be involved in is something they want to figure out when things kind of calm down a little.
ROVNER: But it's the anti-abortion community that remains most upset. Anti-abortion lawmakers in Congress, led by New Jersey's Christopher Smith, have introduced legislation that would require information about abortion coverage to be available directly on health exchange websites. Chuck Donovan says it will help those on both sides of the debate.
DONOVAN: It's designed so that people have information about elective abortion coverage, whether they're looking for it or they're looking to exclude it. And they would have that information when they have their encounter with the plan, and not have that information only after they've bought it.
ROVNER: Abortion rights supporters oppose the bill. They say it would separate out and stigmatize abortion. In any case, for now, at least in states where coverage is allowed, whether or not abortion is a plan benefit mostly remains a mystery.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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