July 22, 2015 — The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday reversed a lower court ruling that dismissed a Missouri legislator's challenge to the federal contraceptive coverage rules, the National Law Journal reports (Coyle, National Law Journal, 7/20).
The contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most employers to offer coverage to their workers. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, and not-for-profits that hold themselves out as religious are eligible for an accommodation that ensures they do not have to pay for or directly provide the coverage for their employees (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/15).
In August 2013, Missouri Rep. Paul Wieland (R) asked a federal court to exempt his family from the contraceptive coverage provided through his state health insurance plan. The Thomas More Society filed the lawsuit on behalf of Weiland and his wife against HHS and two other federal agencies, contending that Weiland's religious, free-speech and parental rights have been violated.
The suit states that Wieland in previous years opted out of coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients, but he can no longer do so because of the federal rules (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/15/13). According to the National Law Journal, Missouri stopped offering an opt-out for such coverage following a federal district court ruling -- Missouri Insurance Coalition v. Huff -- that the ACA pre-empted the state's opt-out provision (National Law Journal, 7/20).
Wieland said he is not seeking a blanket ruling against the federal policy, only an exemption in his individual case. However, he added that a legal victory in his case might give other like-minded people the same option (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/15/13). Meanwhile, the federal government argued the Wielands did not have standing to challenge the rules because they do not apply directly to individuals, but rather to insurers and the state.
According to the Journal, a federal district court dismissed the suit because the court determined the Wielands did not have standing to bring the case.
In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel on the 8th Circuit sent the case back to the federal district court for consideration.
The panel said the Weilands' complaints were "fairly traceable" to the contraceptive coverage rules and that the couple therefore had standing to challenge the rules. Specifically, Judge Roger Wollman in the ruling wrote, "The mandate challenged in the Wielands' complaint requires group health plans and health insurance issuers to include coverage for contraceptives in all health care plans, and it is the mandate that caused the state and (group plan) to eliminate contraceptive-free health care plans [and] to place the Wielands in a health-care plan that included this coverage."
Further, Wollman wrote that because state law previously allowed employees to opt out of contraceptive coverage, it was "'likely'" that the state would again allow Weiland to opt out should his legal challenge succeed.
According to the National Law Journal, the circuit court also directed the lower court to reconsider the Huff ruling in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, which exempted closely held companies whose owners object to contraception on religious grounds from the rules (National Law Journal, 7/20).