Sunday, December 29, 2013

Colorado Federal Court: Contraceptive Mandate Accommodation Imposes No Substantial Burden On ERISA-Exempt Church Plans

In Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Sebelius, (D CO, Dec. 27, 2013), a Colorado federal district court denied a preliminary injunction to two non-profit homes controlled by Little Sisters of the Poor which sued to challenge the contraceptive coverage mandate accommodation under the Affordable Care Act. The homes provide health coverage to their employees through a self-insured "church plan" administered by a Catholic-affiliated non-profit corporation.  The court held that no substantial burden was placed on plaintiffs' religious exercise because "church plans" are exempt from ERISA under which the mandate accommodation is enforced. Little Sisters of the Poor only needs to fill out the self-certification form and provide it to its third-party administrator. According to the court:
It is undisputed that Christian Brothers Services is the third party administrator for the Trust.... Christian Brothers Services does not currently provide the Trust’s beneficiaries with access to sterilization, contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs and services, and it does not intend to do so in the future.... Defendants concede that they have no regulatory authority to require Little Sisters or the Trust to contract with a different third party administrator.... Thus, the Final Rules do not require Little Sisters or the Trust to designate, authorize, or create a provider-insured relationship with any third party that will provide their employees with access to contraception, sterilization, or abortifacients.
The Baltimore Sun reported yesterday that plaintiffs immediately filed an appeal and are seeking an injunction to block any fines while the appeal is pending.