Ruling could trigger new Supreme Court review of contraceptive mandate
A U.S. Court of Appeals in the 8th Circuit in St. Louis, Missouri, ruled this week that the ACA unlawfully burdens religiously affiliated employers by forcing them to help cover the costs for certain contraceptives despite being able to opt out of paying for them, reports the Associated Press.
The decision--which sided with plaintiffs that included three Christian colleges in Missouri, Michigan and Iowa--contrasts that of every other appeals court that has heard the issue, as the Washington Post points out. And because of the split, the Supreme Court may be propelled to settle the decision.
As noted in the ruling, the colleges now don't have to pay directly for their workers' birth control. Instead, they can opt out and have the insurance companies pay for it. However, the plaintiffs state this workaround still subjects them to noncompliance fees, notes the AP.
This summer, the Obama administration proposed a new solution to the issue that states closely held companies can notify the federal government that they object to covering contraceptives, and then the Department of Health and Human Services would tell the companies' health insurers that they're responsible for paying for the birth control benefits. But not all insurers comply with the contraceptive mandate, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.
However, the plaintiffs argue that this rule violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which states that the government must have a compelling reason to substantially burden religious beliefs, the Post reports. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit wrote in a previous ruling that the opt-out paperwork is "minimal and straightfoward" and thus does not burden religious employers.
The case in similar in some ways to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other similar companies don't have to include birth control in their health plans if the benefit violates their owners' religious beliefs.