By Sarah Ferris - 09/16/14 12:52 PM EDT
A government watchdog group on Tuesday said health plans across the country have not followed rules that are intended to prevent federal subsidies from being used for abortions, fueling a new GOP attack against ObamaCare just weeks ahead of the midterms.
In a sample of 18 insurers nationwide, all but one allowed women to pay for abortions through their healthcare plans, regardless of whether they are receiving federal subsidies, the Government Accountability Office found after a seven-month investigation.
The findings come at a crucial time for Republicans, who have continued to mount challenges of ObamaCare as they seek control of the Senate this fall.
The issue lies with the complicated — but crucial — way that insurers bill patients for abortions.
As part of a key compromise in the Affordable Care Act, a woman must be charged separately for an abortion to ensure that any federal subsidies she receives will never mix with abortion payments. If the payments are not separated, Republicans argue that tax money is essentially funding abortion services, even if a woman pays her own premiums.
The report does not say how many abortions were funded in this way.
GOP leaders have blasted the separate billing process as an “accounting gimmick” created by Obama to gain votes from anti-abortion Democrats. Nearly half of states have passed their own laws to restrict funds for abortion coverage.
Each state can decide whether abortion services are covered under subsidized healthcare plans, and 28 states have no laws restricting the coverage of abortion as long as payments are compliant with the federal law. Abortion services are exempt if a woman’s life is endangered or she is the victim of rape or incest.
About half of the 3,000 plans across the country cover abortions only in those restricted cases, while the rest offer coverage in a wider range of circumstances.
The audit found apparent violations of the law affecting hundreds of thousands of plans. Five states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, allow abortions to be covered under all insurance plans, violating the requirement that every state offer at least one plan that does not cover abortions.
In a response to the report, a statement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said officials would speak directly with insurers and states “to determine whether additional guidance is necessary” to clarify the rules.
Republican leaders, who had commissioned the study, were quick to deploy the findings against Obama.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) blasted the Obama administration for failing to inform policyholders that their plan covers abortion services.
“When jamming the law through Congress, the administration and Washington Democrats insisted that ObamaCare would not fund abortions. The harsh and sad reality that today’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) report confirmed is that there is little the administration is doing to live up to that promise,” McCarthy said.
Rep. Diane BlackDiane BlackIvanka sells Trump childcare to Capitol Hill Trump calls congresswoman to stage at child care policy speech Overnight Healthcare: Zika funding stalemate drags on | Tighter rules for ObamaCare sign-ups | New EpiPen probe MORE (R-Tenn.) called the report “disturbing” and said she has been repeatedly ignored by the administration when asking about the issue of abortions.
“Now the GAO has proven that the government has failed to ensure that the insurance issuers are not billing the abortion surcharge separately as required by the law. So the question remains, what will the administration now do to ensure compliance? This must be fixed.”
This story was posted at 10:15 a.m. and last updated at 7:40 p.m.