Anti-choice lawmakers in Missouri have managed to do the impossible: ignite a situation where, ultimately, a multibillion-dollar health insurance company emerges as the good guy.
This week, the Missouri Department of Insurance issued a $1.5 million fine -- reportedly the largest in its history -- to the insurance provider Aetna for not letting employers opt out of contraception coverage in their employee health insurance plans. By providing coverage for contraceptives and, in some cases, abortion and sterilization services, the agency said Aetna violated at least two state laws.
"This settlement should be a reminder to all health benefit plans covering Missourians, that state law has stringent requirements honoring the religious and moral beliefs of insurance customers," Department Director John M. Huff said in statement. “We will be enforcing Missouri's decade-old contraception coverage law, as well as the new law on the subject, anywhere we see violations.”
Earlier this month, Missouri legislators overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to approve a bill that allows employers to stop offering that coverage if it violates their religious or moral convictions.
But before lawmakers passed that bill -- a pushback against the Obama administration’s health care reform law, which mandates that employer-sponsored health plans cover contraception without a co-pay -- the state already had a decade-old law in place that permits insurers to offer policies without contraception coverage to people or employers who say it violates their religious or moral convictions.
Aetna has agreed to the settlement and, according to Huff, admits to numerous violations of the Missouri law by issuing health insurance policies that allegedly “routinely” provide coverage for elective abortions, providing contraceptives without allowing employers to opt out of that coverage and excluding coverage for autism spectrum disorders (in violation of a 2010 autism insurance law).
But while Huff and Sam Lee, the head of the anti-choice Campaign Life Missouri, claim the settlement is evidence that the “moral concerns of Missouri citizens must take precedence over the standard operating procedure of the insurance industry,” it’s unclear as to how those moral concerns would take precedence over the federal health care law, which allows religious institutions to opt out of coverage but still requires all insurers to directly offer contraceptives to employees.