December 19, 2012 — A three-judge panel of a federal appeals court on Tuesday put a challenge to the contraceptive coverage rules on hold while the Obama administration continues work on accommodations for religiously affiliated employers, Politico's "Politico Pulse" reports.
The case involves suits filed by Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College (Cheney, "Politico Pulse," Politico, 12/19). Lower courts had dismissed the suits because the schools do not face an immediate threat of having to comply with the contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148). Although the rules require most health plans issued or renewed after Aug. 1 to cover contraceptive services without copayments or deductibles, HHS has given religiously affiliated entities, such as colleges and hospitals, a one-year delay period to come into compliance. Religious institutions, such as churches and synagogues, are exempt altogether (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/12).
Details of Ruling
The three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered HHS to update the court every 60 days on its progress toward modifying the contraceptive coverage rules. The court said that HHS must complete all changes by August and that the suits may proceed if it fails to do so (Gehrke, "Beltway Confidential," Washington Examiner, 12/19).
The judges noted that the government has said it will release a draft rule in early 2013. "We take the government at its word and will hold it to it," they wrote.
"Based expressly upon the understanding that the government will not deviate from its considered representations to this court, we conclude that the cases are not fit for review at this time because '(i)f we do not decide (the merits of appellants' challenge to the current rule) now, we may never need to,'" the judges added ("Politico Pulse," Politico, 12/19). (Sorcher, National Journal, 12/18).