September 18, 2014 — The Supreme Court this fall will likely receive petitions from religiously affiliated not-for-profits that continue to oppose a federal rule designed to ensure that enrollees in their health plans have access to contraceptive coverage, Politico Pro reports.
Dozens of religiously affiliated not-for-profits that oppose contraception have filed lawsuits that are making their way through the courts. The plaintiffs object to an accommodation that enables them to notify a third-party administrator or insurer of their opposition to providing the coverage so the third-party administrator or insurer could then facilitate contraceptive coverage for members of their health plans (Haberkorn, Politico Pro, 9/17).
HHS crafted the accommodation as a way for not-for-profits with religious objections to contraception to avoid providing the coverage directly, while also ensuring that members of their health plans have access to the contraceptive coverage benefits under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/22).
Last month, in an effort to address the ongoing court challenges, HHS announced a new rule that maintains the accommodation but creates a second way for those entities to provide notice of their objections.
Under the new option, religiously affiliated not-for-profits can send a letter to HHS stating that they object to offering contraceptive coverage in their health plans. Such organizations still have the original option of filling out a form to send to the insurer if they prefer.
The rule took effect immediately upon publication, but HHS said it would take comments (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/22).
However, some not-for-profits still object to the new option of notifying HHS.
Potential Supreme Court Petitions
Multiple plaintiffs are expected to file petitions with the Supreme Court for its upcoming term, according to Politico Pro. Although the multiple petitions might compel the court to take a case, the justices also might decide against addressing the issue just yet if lower courts reach similar conclusions in pending cases, Politico Pro reports.
The University of Notre Dame has the option of appealing its case to the high court by Oct. 4 after a lower court denied its request for an injunction against the accommodation. In addition, the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, Tenn., could ask the Supreme Court to consider its case, which involves multiple plaintiffs, after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday turned down its request for a rehearing.
Further, the losing party in the Archdiocese of Washington's case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is expected to appeal to the high court. The D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in the case in May and later asked the parties to submit court filings responding to the latest HHS rule.
On Tuesday, the archdiocese said it believes the changes continue to force "religious believers to violate their sincere religious beliefs." However, the administration noted that the Supreme Court in its Hobby Lobby decision, which involved a private business, "expressly stated" that the accommodation for not-for-profits respects such entities' religious beliefs while ensuring that their employees have the same access to contraceptives as individuals whose employers have no religious objections (Politico Pro, 9/17).