Hoping to put to rest one of the most difficult disputes over its health care law, the Obama administration on Friday unveiled its latest plan to address the objections of employers to providing coverage for medical measures that conflict with their religious beliefs.
The health care law requires most employers to provide insurance that covers the measures, at no cost to employees. While houses of worship are exempt, the requirement proved controversial for religious nonprofits and private businesses whose owners have deeply held beliefs.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled, in the landmark Hobby Lobby decision, that some private companies can avoid the requirement on religious grounds.
The rules issued Friday attempt to provide a template for those companies to opt out. However, their employees could still receive pharmaceuticals and medical measures that they find morally objectionable directly from the employer’s insurance company. Neither the workers nor the employer would be charged. The administration says any cost is basically a wash for insurers.
Despite the fact that the administration has made concessions after losing several key legal battles to defend the president’s signature health care initiative, not all objectors felt accommodations were adequate.
“The administration is still providing [goods] by piggybacking on the provided health plans,” Adèle Auxier Keim, legal counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Hobby Lobby, told Hamodia. “If religious liberty means anything, it means that if government has a better way of doing something without infringing on people’s beliefs, then it should use those other means.”
Reportedly, most employers with religious objections appear to have complied and moved on. However, some groups, such as Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic group being represented by Becket, feel the present protocols still make it a party to a process that it finds morally objectionable, saying that the medical measures are still being provided by a package under their auspices.
Mrs. Keim cited free clinics and health care exchanges, set up by the administration to accommodate small businesses and self-employed individuals, as preferable options that would allow religious objectors total detachment from the process.
“The government keeps digging the hole deeper,” she said. “Just last week the Supreme Court ordered HHS [Health and Human Services] not to enforce the exact rules they finalized today … The government has already told thousands of businesses that they don’t need to comply with the HHS mandate at all. So why is it continuing to go out of its way to force religious objectors, from nuns to business owners, to do something it is more than capable of doing itself?”
Last week, the Supreme Court granted a stay in a case involving objections from the Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh to comply with the present rules. Although not a formal judgment, the move was seen as a positive sign from the court, which has ruled favorably on religious objections against the health care laws.
However, a ruling announced Tuesday by a Federal Court of Appeals against the Little Sisters and other co-plaintiffs, was a significant setback against holdouts to compliance. The three-judge panel rejected the argument that the present arrangement makes them “complicit” and, as such, ordered them to either comply or face huge IRS penalties. They are considering appealing their case to the Supreme Court.
To qualify for the opt-out, companies cannot be publicly traded on the stock market. Also, more than half the ownership must be in the hands of five or fewer individuals. For purposes of meeting the new rule, a family counts as a single individual.
The administration’s latest effort also attempts to address the objections of some religious nonprofits to an earlier accommodation. That previous plan called for the nonprofit to notify its insurance administrator of its objections. Some nonprofits said that would essentially involve them in arranging the coverage, albeit indirectly.
HHS declined an interview request from Hamodia.
(With reporting from Associated Press )