June 21, 2019

Federal Court Issues Injunction on Contraceptive Mandate Enforcement

On June 5, 2019, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a permanent injunction against the federal government from enforcing the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”’s) contraceptive mandate and accompanying accommodation process against any members of the two classes certified in Judge Reed O’Connor’s decision. The two classes in this order are as follows:

  1. Employer Class: “Every current and future employer in the United States that objects, based on its sincerely held religious beliefs, to establishing, maintaining, providing, offering, or arranging for: (i) coverage or payments for some or all contraceptive services; or (ii) a plan, issuer, or third-party administrator that provides or arranges for such coverage or payments.”
  2. Individual Class: “All current and future individuals in the United States who: (1) object to coverage or payments for some or all contraceptive services based on sincerely held religious beliefs; and (2) would be willing to purchase or obtain health insurance that excludes coverage or payments for some or all contraceptive services from a health insurance issuer, or from a plan sponsor of a group plan, who is willing to offer a separate benefit package option, or a separate policy, certificate, or contract of insurance that excludes coverage or payments for some or all contraceptive services.”

The Employer Class argues that having to choose between either complying with the contraceptive mandate, filing out a self-certification form to object to such coverage, or paying a hefty penalty for noncompliance violates its religious exercise under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). Similarly, the Individual Class asserts that the contraceptive mandate violates RFRA by forcing individuals who oppose the contraceptive coverage based on sincere religious beliefs to either purchase health insurance that includes contraceptives or go without health insurance all together.

In its 35-page decision, the Court found that the accommodation process—the act itself of an employer notifying its insurer, TPA, or federal government in writing to object to the contraceptive mandate due to its sincere religious beliefs—violates RFRA. Therefore, employers who do not wish to provide contraceptive coverage due to their sincere religious beliefs are no longer required to object through the accommodation process – they simply don’t have to provide it. However, employers with health plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) will need to articulate the exclusion of contraceptives within the summary plan description (“SPD”).

In addition, Judge O’Connor reasoned that the contraceptive mandate combined with the individual mandate essentially made Individual Class plaintiffs choose between violating their sincere religious beliefs or violating federal law, thus putting a substantial burden on their religious exercise. It is important to note that this decision only applies to employers and individuals with sincere religious objections and does not mention sincere moral objections (see Compliancedashboard’s previous blog for more information on this distinction).

Although the federal government is prohibited from enforcing these laws against members of the certified classes, Judge O’Connor provides certain “safe harbors” for the federal government to be able to question employers or individuals that fail to comply with the mandate about whether they are sincere religious objectors. If the government reasonably and in good faith doubts the sincerity of an employer’s or individual’s asserted religious objections, the government can ask the court to resolve the issue. If the court determines the employers or individuals are not sincere religious objectors, then the federal government may enforce the mandate. However, it is important to note that even if an individual or employer meets the class membership requirements, state laws requiring insurers to provide contraceptive coverage may still apply.

For more information, the order can be viewed here.

 

 

The information and content contained in this blog post are for general informational purposes only, and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.

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