As a follow-up to Jesuit-run University of San Francisco's announced jettisoning of abortion coverage in its health plan for students, OSV contributing editor Valerie Schmalz pressed the university on several other outstanding issues, including referral of USF students to Planned Parenthood and continuing coverage of abortion and contraception for USF employees.
Tonight, we received these replies from Gary McDonald, assistant vice president of communications and public affairs. Please bear with a little repetitiveness in the questions and answers:
Our Sunday Visitor: In a conversation with an official at St. Mary's Medical Center, the official said the student health clinic refers students for abortion and contraception to Planned Parenthood and to Aetna providers. Can you clarify if that is USF policy?
Gary McDonald: In light of recent inquiries, we are now aware that our protocol needs improvement. We are taking immediate steps to remedy this, and are in the process of developing a protocol to ensure that counseling and pro-life options are always provided at the USF clinic.
OSV: In addition, the hospital-based USF Student Health Clinic refers students to Planned Parenthood or Aetna Insurance providers for abortion and contraception, an official who oversees the student health clinic told Our Sunday Visitor.
McDonald: USF is removing the provision for voluntary termination of pregnancy from our student health plan. Students are not referred to Planned Parenthood, but are referred to Aetna providers for prescriptions. Under California law, prescription plans must pay for all FDA approved medications, including contraception.
OSV: Signing up for health insurance is mandatory for undergraduates at USF unless they have a waiver that proves they have other health insurance, and the Aetna policy detailed on the college website specifically mentions abortion. The students get most of their health care from a special clinic for students at St. Mary's Medical Center, which is across the street from the university. An official at the hospital said that St. Mary's does not do abortions but refers students who request abortion or contraception either to Planned Parenthood or to Aetna providers.
McDonald: Yes, having health care insurance is mandatory for every USF student to ensure their best interests in case of a medical emergency or illness. Students can provide their own insurance, (often they are covered under their parent's insurance), or enroll in the university-sponsored plan. As stated on Dec. 12, it was not the university's intention to offer coverage for the voluntary termination of pregnancy, and we are removing this provision from our student health plan. We regret this mistake, and we take full responsibility for not adequately reviewing the contract. We are grateful to those who brought this issue to our attention. ... Coverage for the voluntary termination of pregnancy in the student health plan was a mistake, and that provision is being removed. However, health insurance is still mandatory for all USF students. Prescriptions for contraception are never provided at the USF Clinic, nor are referrals to Planned Parenthood for abortions. However, under state law, all California prescription plans must cover prescriptions for contraception.
OSV: Ongoing USF employee insurance coverage of abortion and contraception was not addressed in the statement.While the policy adding abortion was new for the 2008-2009 academic year, the college was providing RU-486 chemical abortion coverage as early as 2005, according to documents available on the college website. The university also offers insurance which includes abortion and contraception to its employees; will that insurance continue?
McDonald: USF offers two options for employee health insurance, Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente. Our Blue Cross claims procedure excludes coverage for surgical abortion. When USF negotiated its contract with Kaiser, we were unable to opt out of the plan's provision for termination of pregnancy. USF decided to offer the Kaiser plan because Kaiser is widely considered to be the highest-quality HMO in Northern California. It is USF's strong desire to offer its employees the best health care possible. USF is in the process of working with Kaiser to see if the contract can be renegotiated and the provision eliminated.
Updated 12/16/08 0700: Removed some words from intro that at least one reader misunderstood.