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Latest Top (4) News


OCR Finds the State of California Violated Federal Law in Discriminating Against Pregnancy Resource Centers

Today the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it found that the State of California violated the federal conscience protection laws known as the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments. This is the first time since the launch of the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division a year ago that OCR has found a violation under these laws. This matter arose from complaints filed by Sacramento Life Center, LivingWell Medical Clinic, Pregnancy Center of the North Coast, and Confidence Pregnancy Center alleging that California subjected them to potential fines and discrimination for refusing to post notices referring for abortion.

California adopted the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (the “FACT Act”) on October 9, 2015, which required pregnancy resource centers that met the FACT Act’s definition of “licensed covered facilities” to post notices stating that California provides free or low-cost family planning services and abortion. The FACT Act also required pregnancy resource centers that constituted “unlicensed covered facilities” under the Act to post notices in advertisements and communications. A violation of the FACT Act threatened civil fines of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

The Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments prohibit state and local governments that receive certain federal funds from subjecting health care entities to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not perform or refer for abortions.

On June 26, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court decided National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra (“NIFLA”), finding that the FACT Act likely violated the First Amendment rights of pregnancy resource centers by impermissibly compelling speech. In concurrence, Justice Kennedy stated that “viewpoint discrimination is inherent in the design and structure of [the] Act” and that California required “primarily pro-life pregnancy centers to promote the State’s own preferred message advertising abortions.”

OCR’s Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, established last year, conducted an independent investigation and determined that the FACT Act violated the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments by requiring “licensed covered facilities” to refer for abortion and violated the Weldon amendment by subjecting “unlicensed covered facilities” to discrimination by targeting them for burdensome and unnecessary notice requirements because they do not refer for or make arrangements for abortion.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in NIFLA, a federal district court enjoined California from enforcing the FACT Act against any pregnancy resource center in the state. OCR is issuing its finding of violation for California’s unlawful discrimination, and, as a result of the permanent injunction, is closing the complaint as favorably resolved for the complainants and all similarly situated parties. If California were to violate the terms of the injunction it would be subject to a reopening of the complaints and further enforcement action by OCR.

Roger Severino, director of OCR, stated, “We are pleased that the Supreme Court blocked California’s blatant discrimination against non-profits that give life-affirming options to women facing unplanned pregnancies. Our violation finding underscores not only that California must follow the Constitution, but that it also must respect federal conscience protection laws when it accepts federal funds.”

View the California Notice of Violation



Friday, January 18, 2019 - 07:00


HHS Is Committed to Protecting Life and Conscience

On the occasion of the 2019 March for Life, HHS Secretary Alex Azar released the following statement regarding the Trump administration’s accomplishments in protecting human life:

“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration. At HHS, through our work in healthcare, human services, public health, and biomedical science, we are committed to this effort. This means not just protecting human life in the administration of our programs, but also respecting the conscience rights of those who participate in HHS-funded programs. Under President Trump, HHS will continue to advance science and improve the health of Americans while protecting our most fundamental freedoms: the right to life and the right of conscience.”

Read the Trump Administration Actions to Protect Life and Conscience.



Friday, January 18, 2019 - 10:00


Trump Administration Actions to Protect Life and Conscience
  • In February 2018, HHS updated its five-year Strategic Plan for 2018-2022, which highlights that a core component of HHS’s mission is the dedication to protecting the life of all Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.

Title X Reforms

  • New Title X Proposed Regulation: In June 2018, HHS proposed a new Title X regulation that would enforce statutory program integrity provisions by no longer permitting Title X-funded family planning services at the same location where abortion is provided. HHS looks forward to issuing the final rule promptly.
  • Broadening Participation in Title X: In its most recent Title X grant awards, HHS funded 12 organizations that were not current Title X grantees, including state health departments, a faith-based organization, and several community health centers. 

Protecting Conscience

  • Enforcing Weldon & Coats-Snowe Amendments: This week, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) notified the State of California that its law requiring pro-life pregnancy resource centers to refer clients for abortions, by posting notices about free or low-cost family planning services and abortion, violated the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments. This is the first time that any state has been found in violation of these laws, reflecting HHS’s heightened commitment to enforcing conscience protection statutes.
  • New Division to Protect Conscience and Religious Freedom: In January 2018, OCR launched a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, the first time a federal office for civil rights has established a separate division dedicated to ensuring compliance with and enforcement of laws that protect conscience and free exercise of religion in healthcare and human services.
  • Protecting Conscience in Health Insurance: In November 2018, HHS and the Departments of Labor and of the Treasury issued two final rules to provide regulatory relief to American employers, including organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor, that have religious or moral objections to providing coverage for contraceptives, including those they view as abortifacient, in their health insurance plans. The departments are vigorously defending the final rules.
  • New Proposed Conscience Regulation: HHS is in the process of finalizing a rule to strengthen enforcement procedures for 25 health-related federal conscience and religious freedom laws and enforce those laws as vigorously as other civil rights laws enforced by OCR. The proposed rule was issued in January 2018. 

The Affordable Care Act and Abortion

  • Separate Billing for Abortion Coverage: In November 2018, HHS issued a proposed rule to require issuers of Qualified Health Plans—individual insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—to bill and send separate invoices for insurance coverage of non-Hyde abortions.
  • Ensuring Access to Policies without Abortion Coverage: This week, HHS issued a proposed rule to require that insurance companies that offer ACA plans covering abortions of pregnancies that do not threaten the life of the mother or result from rape or incest must also offer at least one identical plan in the same geographic area that does not cover these abortions. (The rule would not apply in states with abortion coverage mandates.)
  • Hardship Exemption: In April 2018, CMS issued guidance to allow individuals to claim a hardship exemption from the individual mandate if all affordable plans offered through the federal exchanges in an individual’s area included abortion coverage, contrary to the individual’s beliefs.

Medicaid and Abortion

  • Rescinded Guidance that Limited States’ Ability to Take Action Against Abortion Providers: In January 2018, CMS rescinded April 2016 guidance that curtailed states’ ability to set reasonable standards for determining which providers can participate in their Medicaid programs.  

International Stance on Life

  • Changing the U.S. Message: At international forums—such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the Pan American Health Organization—HHS continues to fight the concept of abortion as a fundamental human right, as evidenced by statements, votes called, amendments offered, and resolutions opposed. The Trump administration does not recognize abortion as a method of family planning and refuses to fund abortion in global health assistance.
  • Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance: HHS worked with the Department of State to implement President Trump’s restored and expanded Mexico City Policy, now known as “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” to ensure that, consistent with applicable law, global health assistance administered by HHS is not provided to foreign non-governmental organizations that provide or promote abortion as a method of family planning.

Read HHS Is Committed to Protecting Life and Conscience.



Friday, January 18, 2019 - 10:00


HHS Proposes New Rules to Improve the Interoperability of Electronic Health Information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today proposed new rules to support seamless and secure access, exchange, and use of electronic health information. The rules, issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), would increase choice and competition while fostering innovation that promotes patient access to and control over their health information. The proposed ONC rule would require that patient electronic access to this electronic health information (EHI) be made available at no cost.

“These proposed rules strive to bring the nation’s healthcare system one step closer to a point where patients and clinicians have the access they need to all of a patient’s health information, helping them in making better choices about care and treatment,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “By outlining specific requirements about electronic health information, we will be able to help patients, their caregivers, and providers securely access and share health information. These steps forward for health IT are essential to building a healthcare system that pays for value rather than procedures, especially through empowering patients as consumers.”

CMS’ proposed changes to the healthcare delivery system support the MyHealthEData initiative and would increase the seamless flow of health information, reduce burden on patients and providers, and foster innovation by unleashing data for researchers and innovators. In 2018, CMS finalized regulations that use potential payment reductions for hospitals and clinicians to encourage providers to improve patient access to their electronic health information. For the first time, CMS is now proposing requirements that Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare Advantage plans and Qualified Health Plans in the Federally-facilitated Exchanges must provide enrollees with immediate electronic access to medical claims and other health information electronically by 2020.

In support of patient-centered healthcare, CMS would also require these health care providers and plans to implement open data sharing technologies to support transitions of care as patients move between these plan types. By ensuring patients have easy access to their information, and that information follows them on their healthcare journey, we can reduce burden, and eliminate redundant procedures and testing thus giving clinicians the time to focus on improving care coordination and, ultimately, health outcomes.

“Today’s announcement builds on CMS’ efforts to create a more interoperable healthcare system, which improves patient access, seamless data exchange, and enhanced care coordination,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.  “By requiring health insurers to share their information in an accessible, format by 2020, 125 million patients will have access to their health claims information electronically. This unprecedented step toward a healthcare future where patients are able to obtain and share their health data, securely and privately, with just a few clicks, is just the beginning of a digital data revolution that truly empowers American patients.”

The CMS rule also proposes to publicly report providers or hospitals that participate in “information blocking,” practices that unreasonably limit the availability, disclosure, and use of electronic health information undermine efforts to improve interoperability.  Making this information publicly available may incentivize providers and clinicians to refrain from such practices.

ONC’s proposed rule promotes secure and more immediate access to health information for patients and their healthcare providers and new tools allowing for more choice in care and treatment. Specifically, the proposed rule calls on the healthcare industry to adopt standardized application programming interfaces (APIs), which will help allow individuals to securely and easily access structured and unstructured EHI formats using smartphones and other mobile devices. It also implements the information blocking provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act, including identifying reasonable and necessary activities that do not constitute information blocking. The proposed rule helps ensure that patients can electronically access their electronic health information at no cost. The proposed rule also asks for comments on pricing information that could be included as part of their EHI and would help the public see the prices they are paying for their healthcare.

“By supporting secure access of electronic health information and strongly discouraging information blocking, the proposed rule supports the bi-partisan 21st Century Cures Act. The rule would support patients accessing and sharing their electronic health information, while giving them the tools to shop for and coordinate their own health care,” said Don Rucker, M.D., National Coordinator for Health IT. “We encourage everyone – patients, patient advocates, healthcare providers, health IT developers, health information networks, application innovators, and anyone else interested in the interoperability and transparency of health information – to share their comments on the proposed rule we posted today.”

Policies in the proposed CMS and ONC rules align to advance interoperability in several important ways. CMS proposes that entities must conform to the same advanced API standards as those proposed for certified health IT in the ONC proposed rule, as well as including an aligned set of content and vocabulary standards for clinical data classes through the United States Core Data for Interoperability standard (USCDI). Together, these proposed rules address both technical and healthcare industry factors that create barriers to the interoperability of health information and limit a patient’s ability to access essential health information. Aligning these requirements for payers, health care providers, and health IT developers will help to drive an interoperable health IT infrastructure across systems, ensuring providers and patients have access to health data when and where it is needed.

For a fact sheet on the CMS proposed rule (CMS-9115-P), please visit: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/cms-advances-interoperability-patient-access-health-data-through-new-proposals

For fact sheets on the ONC proposed rule, please visit: https://healthit.gov/nprm

To receive more information about CMS’s interoperability efforts, sign-up for listserv notifications, here: https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USCMS/subscriber/new?topic_id=USCMS_12443

To view the CMS proposed rule (CMS-9115-P), please visit: https://www.cms.gov/Center/Special-Topic/Interoperability-Center.html



Monday, February 11, 2019 - 16:00