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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Supremes Uphold Employer’s Religious Exemption to ACA

U.S. Supreme Court on July 8, 2020, upheld the employer’s religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraceptive mandate, in Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter & Paul Home v. Pennsylvania. Under the ACA’s contraceptive mandate, most employers are required by law to provide health insurance to employees that includes coverage for certain types of contraceptives. However, the federal administration issued new rules in 2017 that allowed private employers with religious or moral objections to opt out of providing the required coverage. To listen to oral arguments in this case, click here.

Background of Case

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 required covered employers to provide women with "preventive care and screenings" without "any cost sharing requirements," and relies on Preventive Care Guidelines (Guidelines) "supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration" (HRSA) to determine what "preventive care and screenings" includes. Those Guidelines mandate that health plans provide coverage for all Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods. When the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (Departments) incorporated the Guidelines, they also gave HRSA the discretion to exempt religious employers, such as churches, from providing contraceptive coverage. Later, the Departments also promulgated a rule accommodating qualifying religious organizations that allowed them to opt out of coverage by self-certifying that they met certain criteria to their health insurance issuer, which would then exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer's plan and provide participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without imposing any cost-sharing requirements.

Religious entities challenged the rules under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U. S. 682,. the Supreme Court held that the contraceptive mandate substantially burdened the free exercise of closely held corporations with sincerely held religious objections to providing their employees with certain methods of contraception. And in Zubik v. Burwell, the Court opted to remand the case without first deciding the RFRA question in cases challenging the self-certification accommodation that would enable the parties and future employers to develop an approach that would accommodate employers' concerns while providing women full and equal coverage.

The US Supreme Court ultimately upheld the rule exempting Little Sisters of the Poor (and other religious institutions) from the mandate to provide contraception in health care plans. In doing so, the Court reasoned that the exemptions created by the new rules do not violate the Affordable Care Act's mandate, because it only requires employers to provide coverage for "additional preventive care and screenings" for women and does not expressly state that coverage for contraceptives is specifically required. Therefore, the Court determined that the administration "had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption." Accordingly, private employers with legitimate moral or religious objections to the ACA's coverage mandate could opt out of providing contraceptives.

The US Supreme Court held that the Federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury had the legal authority to exempt certain employers who had religious and conscientious objections from the agency-created contraceptive mandate because the wording that "as provided for" in 42 U.S.C.S. § 300gg-13(a)(4), granted the Health Resources and Services Administration sweeping authority to identify and create exemptions from its own guidelines.

The US Supreme Court also ruled it was appropriate for the Departments to consider the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in formulating the religious exemption because it was clear from the face of the Affordable Care Act that the contraceptive mandate was capable of violating Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The US Supreme Court found that the final rules were not procedurally invalid as the notice requirements and objective criteria were satisfied.

The Court reasoned that the exemptions created by the new rules do not violate the ACA, as the ACA only requires employers to provide coverage for "additional preventive care and screenings" for women. The new rules do not expressly state that coverage for contraceptives is required. Accordingly, private employers with legitimate moral or religious objections to the ACA's coverage mandate have discretion to evaluate the types of coverage offered through their health care plans.

What You Can Do

If you believe you were the target of illegal discrimination in the workplace resulting in termination or a refusal to rehire, it is important to consult with an aggressive and experienced employment attorney.

If you complained about such discrimination and your employer then retaliated against you, you may also have a claim for retaliation. If you believe you are being subjected to such unlawful workplace discrimination or retaliation, please contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout New Jersey, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in Southern, Central, and Northern NJ to meet with clients.

 



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