I would have thought the revelations regarding the SurroGenesis insurance scam would have served as a clarion call to this industry to clean up its act. Of course, that was too optimistic a thought in an industry that continues to demonstrate a mind-numbing ability to ignore the most obvious warning signals. So while news of the unethical practices of SurroGenesis were met with pubic displays of indignation and condemnation, many have continued to engage in similarly questionable practices that, undoubtedly, will cause an entire new wave of scandals.
As many in this industry already know, the inability to secure medical coverage for surrogates reached almost crisis proportions a few years ago as health insurers chose to exclude maternity benefits for women serving as surrogates. This crisis largely subsided with the introduction of Surrogate Maternity Coverage Plans underwritten by Lloyds of London. As a result of the Lloyds plans, coverage became available for all surrogates, though at a major cost. Between deductibles and premiums, these plans could exceed $25,000.00, easily putting the cost to the Intended Parents pursuing a gestational carrier arrangement at $100,000.00 or more.
So what have some agencies done to gain a competitive advantage? They have begun placing their surrogates with government assisted health care plans such as Medicaid and state-run programs like California’s Access for Infant & Mothers (AIM). Make no mistake about it, these low-cost health care coverage programs for pregnant women were never intended to cover Surrogates who were receiving compensation for the pregnancy and for which there is another party, the Intended Parents, legally, contractually and financially responsible for the cost of the process.
Setting aside for now the question of whether a woman who qualifies under these programs’ income guidelines should even be eligible to be a surrogate, it likely will be construed as insurance fraud by federal and state governments. Some states already prohibit anyone seeking government assistance from serving as a surrogate. For those states that are silent on the issue, it defies logic to believe that they would take kindly to a woman on public assistance, receiving compensation to serve as a gestational carrier, using the public dole to pay for a pregnancy on behalf of Intended Parents who have (or should have) the financial wherewithal to cover the cost of the process.
These agencies that are placing their surrogates on Medicaid, AIM and similar programs are sitting on a powder keg that will surely explode. In the process, they are exposing their surrogates and Intended Parents to potentially huge fines and even criminal prosecution. They are taking the easy route out and desperate Intended Parents are relying upon the guidance of these “experienced” agencies to their detriment.
The climate surrounding the field of surrogacy has never been more precarious. The ART industry has been rocked by scandals repeatedly over the past two years yet it appears that few have learned any lessons from these incidents. No one can avoid hearing the vitriolic arguments being made in the ongoing public health care debate as that bill gets closer to a vote. Right-wing ideologues who oppose government health care are now turning their focus towards government funded abortions, compensated egg donations for stem cell research and surrogate pregnancies to rile up supporters to oppose the President’s health care bill. Throw into this explosive mix the record budget deficits that the federal government and state governments are experiencing and it should be obvious that these shady practices have a huge bullseye on them. Regardless of how you feel about the passage of health care reform, it is inevitable that public scrutiny will be focused upon surrogate agencies placing their gestational carriers on low income health care programs to cover their pregnancies. This practice needs to end immediately.
There was a universal consensus that SurroGenesis’ scheme of classifying their surrogates as employees, only to terminate their “employment” and require the Intended Parents to pay COBRA, was illegal and fraudulent. Seeking out surrogates who meet the income eligibility guidelines for these government offered, low-income health plans is exploitative and unethical. So too is the practice of intentionally electing not to finalize parental rights of the Intended Mother so as to take advantage of the surrogate’s insurance or other low-income state and federal programs to cover the medical expenses of the newborn. Not only does this practice fly in the face of the stated intent of the contract and the laws in many states, but it also ultimately reduces the amount of lifetime medical coverage available to the surrogate. Parenthetically, I would be remiss if I did not point out that many agencies today eschew these unscrupulous practices to their competitive disadvantage and ought to be commended for their principled approach.
If you are an Intended Parent or Surrogate and are asked to avail yourself of low-income, government sponsored health care, please immediately consult with your independent attorney regarding the legality of such a practice. As long as agencies remain unlicensed and unregulated, these types of business practices will, unfortunately, be prevalent. However, you can protect yourself by doing your due diligence before it is too late. Because, mark my words, some unsuspecting Surrogate or Intended Parent is going to find themselves in the middle of an investigation as to whether they committed insurance fraud. Whatever short-term savings the Intended Parents might have enjoyed by following the advice of their agency, it will be far outweighed by the consequential cost of their actions. And, when it comes time to pay the piper, the agency will likely be long-gone leaving the Surrogate and Intended Parents to deal with the aftermath.