The case was Burwell vs Hobby Lobby. To put it simply, the Supreme Court ruled that “closely held (sorry General Motors) for profit companies can, on religious grounds, opt out of a federal requirement to provide certain contraception coverage. Of course, they did not exactly define what “closely held” meant (but as Justice Potter Stewart once said “I’ll know it when I see it”). Publicly traded companies, of course, are not.
With a little more ambiguity, the Supreme Court gave temporary relief to Wheaton College, ruling “it does not for now have to comply with the Obama administration’s requirement that it fill out a form to register religious objections to providing some types of contraceptive coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act” What is odd about this is that the male justices tried to sneak it through, but the female justices were furious, claiming that, while they were a part of the Hobby Lobby decision, this did not mean that they were opening the door for other exemptions, especially those that had not been fully heard.
Consequences? Well other than changing employee handbooks, trying to explain moral and religious convictions to employees, the potential erosion of ACA credibility and the opening of further “religious grounds” challenges for other federal laws, not much. There are also at least four dozen similar faith based lawsuits now under consideration. But in this case…
No sooner was the Supreme Court ruling issued that Democrats released a bill to overturn it. They developed this to “ensure that women have access to coverage for birth control even if they work for businesses that have religious objections”. In other words, they want the ACA to do what it said it would (meaning covering contraception) and they won’t listen to the Supreme Court say otherwise. The bill failed.
One legal firm, commenting on the ruling, said “the Court indicated it may not provide the Administration much leeway in its implementation of the ACA where such implementation impacts and is led by other Federal rights”
Note that the ruling does not apply to state laws, which means that fully insured plans are essentially exempt from the Court ruling because they are subject to state and not federal regulations (for the most part)
Overall, the general implications, or lack of same, are:
- The decision is limited to coverage of contraception without cost sharing under the ACA preventive care mandate
- The Supreme Court did not address the application of the decision to publicly traded companies
- Employees may still be able to access all FDA approved forms of contraception without cost sharing, but not without additional regulatory action
- Plan funding may limit an employer with sincere religious objections from “carving out” certain types of contraception