The Supreme Court of the United States Friday agreed to hear another challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate. It’s the fourth time a provision of the ACA will be considered by the Supreme Court and follows the controversial ruling in last year’s closely watched Hobby Lobby case.
The ACA exempts houses of worship from having to provide contraceptives if they have a religious objection to birth control and the Supreme Court’s June 2014 ruling in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby gave “closely held” private companies the same opportunity. The Obama administration has since released a compromise arrangement which allows employers opposed to some or all kinds of birth control to state their religious objections and turn the coverage of birth control over to the insurer without the religious groups’ involvement.
But many groups say the accommodation isn’t enough and are seeking full-exemption from the ACA mandate to cover certain contraceptives.
The Supreme Court has agreed to take on seven cases considering whether nonprofit groups that oppose the birth control mandate and the workaround can object under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Also see: “Industry reacts to Hobby Lobby decision”
Following the Hobby Lobby decision last year, benefit experts agreed the decision would likely have little impact on most employers or their benefit advisers, considering its narrow scope.
“We have to remember that while it is significant that a major law like the ACA is being challenged, the issue here, while a hot-button issue and politically a very sensitive issue, may not affect very many people,” Howard Shapiro, partner and head of Proskauer's ERISA litigation group in New Orleans said at the time. “The decision should be limited to people working for closely held corporations or small family businesses, where the religious issues are of significant importance, and there just may not be that many businesses similarly situated.”
These new cases being considered by the high court could certainly expand the number of employers qualifying for exemption, however, if the court sides in their favor.
Oral arguments are expected to be scheduled in March 2016, with a decision expected by the end of June.
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