Health-care law still facing another birth-control challenge
While employers are not yet required to provide insurance under the health-care law, many closely held companies do, and under the health-care law, insurance is required to include contraceptive benefits.
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Business owners who don’t want to pay for employees’ birth control are ending that coverage after the Supreme Court said they could choose on grounds of religious belief not to comply with part of the health-care law.
Some owners are already in touch with their brokers in the wake of Monday’s ruling.
Triune Health Group wants to know how soon it can change its coverage to stop paying for all contraceptives, said Mary Anne Yep, co-owner of the Oak Brook, Ill., company that provides medical-management services.
“We were ready to go when we heard the decision,” she said. Triune, which has 80 employees, had filed lawsuits against the U.S. government and the state of Illinois because of requirements that they pay for contraception.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that some businesses can, because of owners’ religious beliefs, choose not to comply with the health-care law’s requirement that contraception coverage be provided to workers at no extra charge.
The Obama administration said Wednesday that the ruling supports the government’s position in separate, ongoing disputes with religious-oriented nonprofit organizations.The administration urged justices to deny a request from evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois that the government says would block its students and employees from free access to emergency contraceptives. The Justice Department said the Hobby Lobby decision essentially endorses the accommodation the administration already has made to faith-affiliated charities, hospitals and universities.
Wednesday’s court filing was the administration’s first legal response to the Supreme Court decision issued Monday.
Houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith are exempt from the requirement to offer birth control.
The issue in the lawsuits filed by Wheaton and other nonprofit groups is different because the administration already has allowed them to opt out of paying for the objectionable contraception by telling the government that doing so would violate their religious beliefs.
But they must fill out Form 700 that enables their insurers or third-party administrators to take on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. The employer does not have to arrange the coverage or pay for it. Insurers get reimbursed by the government through credits against fees owed under other provisions of the health-care law.
The fight is over completing the form, which the nonprofits say violates their religious beliefs because it forces them to participate in a system to subsidize and distribute the contraception.
The justices pointed to the accommodation as an acceptable way to get contraception to women without stepping on the religious beliefs of the for-profit companies.
Most groups that have challenged the accommodation have won temporary reprieves from having to complete the form that government requires.
Hours after the Hobby Lobby decision on Monday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta granted one such request from the Alabama-based Eternal Word Television Network. Judge William Pryor Jr. said in a separate opinion in that case that the administration “turns a blind eye to the undisputed evidence that delivering Form 700 would violate the Network’s religious beliefs.”
The high-court ruling applies to businesses that are closely held, generally defined as having five or fewer individuals owning more than 50 percent of the company’s stock. By some estimates, 90 percent of businesses are closely held and employ about half the nation’s labor force of more than 155 million.
While employers are not yet required to provide insurance under the health-care law, many closely held companies do, and under the health-care law, insurance is required to include contraceptive benefits. However, it’s not known how many closely held companies offer insurance, how many workers they have and how many companies plan to stop paying for contraception.
It’s likely many companies will continue providing coverage for birth control, which would reduce the number of affected workers. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 85 percent of large employers already paid for contraceptives before the health-care law required it. Many owners believe it’s an important benefit.
Even employers who want to opt out of some forms of birth-control coverage see covering others as important. “We want to provide for good health care for our people. We just don’t want to fund abortive procedures,” said Mike Sharrow, owner of C12 Group in San Antonio, with six employees. His company has always paid for what he calls traditional forms of contraception, such as birth-control pills.
The contraceptives at issue in Monday’s decision are two known as morning-after pills, the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella; and two intrauterine devices, which are implantable devices inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Many owners objected to them because they believe they may work after conception occurs.
However, on Tuesday, the court left in place lower-court rulings in other cases that allowed businesses to refuse to pay for all methods of government-approved contraception.
The case decided by the Supreme Court involved two companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties. About 50 others also filed suit against the health-care law’s contraception requirement.
Hobby Lobby has more than 15,000 full-time employees while Conestoga has about 950.