Battle over Obamacare contraception coverage continues

That last summer's decision in Hobby Lobby wasn't the end of the legal fight over what health care coverage the government could require businesses asserting religious objections to provide for their employees became clear just three days after the Hobby Lobby was handed down. In a brief order that drew a sharp dissent from three justices, the Court enjoined enforcement of the government's procedure for accommodating colleges with religious objections to contraception coverage — even though the Court majority had, in Hobby Lobby, appeared to endorse that very procedure. (For our previous coverage of Hobby Lobby, including the work-around the Court seemed to endorse, see here. For the order three days later enjoining the accommodation, in Wheaton College v. Burwell, see here.)

Last week, in Geneva College v. Sec'y of HHS, the Third Circuit addressed on the merits the argument raised in preliminary form before the Supreme Court in Wheaton College: that even filing a form to opt out of contraception coverage is a burden on the rights of an employer with religious objections to contraception coverage. The rationale is that the opt-out form is the "trigger" for employees to obtain coverage that the employer opposes for religious reasons (or, as the religious entities put it at oral argument, that "the accommodation requires them to be 'complicit' in sin"). In a case that drew significant amicus participation from government, religious and civil-liberties organizations, the Third Circuit rejected the religious school's argument, holding that filling out the exemption form simply doesn't burden the rights of the religious.

Although the court did not question the sincerity of the beliefs asserted, it nonetheless found itself obligated to assess objectively the effect of the accommodation procedure on those beliefs. Distinguishing Hobby Lobby, in which the challenged regulations required the plaintiffs to pay for the coverage to which they objected, the court held that filling out a form did not trigger the coverage. Rather, the coverage came about through the operation of federal law. “[S]ubmitting the self-certification form means only that the eligible organization is not providing contraceptive coverage and will not be subjected to penalties," the court explained. You can read the full opinion here.

Giving the court's order last summer in Wheaton College, I doubt this is the last we'll hear of this dispute over the scope of Obamacare. Stay tuned.

0 thoughts on “Battle over Obamacare contraception coverage continues

  1. Anonymous says:

    The real problem as I see it is that people are dependent on their employers for their health insurance. Or even that health insurance is required for health care at all. Of course many procedures are far too expensive (for no good reason in many cases…) for most people to pay out of pocket, but the way the system is set up, insurance companies get to choose what procedures a patient receives, even if it conflicts with a doctor’s recommendations, by simply not approving coverage! For example, my mother was denied extra physical therapy appointments because the insurance company refused to cover it and she couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket. And the physical therapy was still cheaper than invasive procedures.
    The ideal situation, in my opinion, is medical procedures and therapies (and medicines, etc.) to cost only a fair price and mostly affordable for average people to pay out of pocket (such as a few cents for an aspirin, unlike the astronomical cost a hospital charges). Also more access to cheaper alternative therapies instead of going straight to the expensive drugs and surgeries that are currently what many doctors prescribe first. Perhaps small community insurance to help people pay for more expensive procedures when necessary.
    Until then, a single-payer system is best as long as the government doesn’t refuse to cover alternative therapies. If it gets to pick and choose what to cover, it’s no better than private insurance companies.

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