Saturday, December 28, 2013

Decisions In Non-Profit Challenges To Contraceptive Mandate Accommodation Continue To Be Issued

As health insurance decisions for the new year need to be made, decisions continue to be handed down by federal district courts in cases brought by religious non-profits challenging the adequacy of the accommodation created by the final contraceptive coverage rules under the Affordable Care Act.

In Michigan Catholic Conference v. Sebelius, (WD MI, Dec. 27, 2013), a Michigan federal district court refused to grant a preliminary injunction in a suit by Michigan Catholic Conference and Catholic Family Services of Kalamazoo. The court rejected RFRA, free exercise, free speech, Establishment Clause and "Weldon Amendment" challenges.  On the crucial issue of whether, under RFRA, the rule impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs' free exercise of religion, the court said in part:
although Plaintiffs assert that the accommodation requires them to participate in a scheme to provide contraceptives, in fact, it just does the opposite. It provides a mechanism for employers with religious objections to contraceptives, like Catholic Charities, to opt out of that scheme. This mechanism simply requires Plaintiffs to state that they choose to opt out based on their religious beliefs. The fact that the scheme will continue to operate without them may offend Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs, but it does not substantially burden the exercise of those beliefs.
In Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc. v. Sebelius, (MD IN, Dec. 27, 2013), an Indiana federal district court granted a preliminary injunction, finding that the Diocese affiliated charitable, educational and health care affiliates are reasonably likely to succeed on the merits of their RFRA challenge to the contraceptive coverage rules. The court said in part:
The plaintiffs have established that the accommodation compels them to facilitate and serve as the conduit through which objectionable contraceptive products and services are ultimately provided to their employees, in violation of their unquestionably sincerely held religious beliefs. While it is true that prior to the ACA's enactment, plaintiffs had notified their insurers/TPAs that objectionable contraceptive services were to be excluded from their health plans, never before had that notification triggered the provision of the services, nor were plaintiffs designating another to provide the services.
The court held that even though the Diocese itself is an exempt religious employer, it too has been burdened by the rule:
the Diocese is forced to modify its behavior and incur substantial costs to stay grandfathered under the ACA, or else it will be compelled to violate its religious beliefs by having Catholic Charities’ employees provided with a plan that covers objectionable contraceptive services....
In a separate decision using similar reasoning, the same Indiana federal district court judge granted a preliminary injunction to two Christian colleges-- Indiana-based Grace College and Seminary, and California-based Biola University-- shielding their employee and student health care plans from the arrangement that would have provided coverage directly from insurers or third-party administrators.  In Grace Schools v. Sebelius, (MD IN, Dec. 27, 2013) the court concluded that the mandate and the accommodation impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs' religious exercise.