By Matt Dunning, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Dec. 4, 2013) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 2 denied a Christian university's request for a hearing on its challenge of the healthcare reform law's employer mandate.
Liberty University, based in Lynchburg, Va., had hoped to block the federal government from enforcing provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that require employers with more than 50 full-time workers to provide healthcare coverage for their employees. The university opposed the requirement on the grounds that it exceeded Congress' authority under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and that the penalties it would face for ignoring the requirement were overly punitive.
The school also opposed the mandate's establishment of "minimum essential care" standards that employers' health plans must meet under the law, primarily because those standards include cost-free coverage of FDA-approved contraceptive methods.
In July, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Liberty University's arguments against the overall mandate and declined to reach a conclusion on its specific objections to the contraception requirements.
Without providing comment on its decision, the Supreme Court on Dec. 2 denied the university's petition to overturn the appellate court's ruling.
"The Liberty University case would make strong arguments that the employer mandate could not be upheld as a tax because the penalties are exorbitantly high and punitive," Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty Counsel legal group, said in a statement released Dec. 2. Liberty counsel had been representing the university throughout the appeals process.
"Deciding the case would have highlighted the absurdity of the Supreme Court's convoluted decision upholding the individual mandate as a tax," Mr. Staver said in the statement. "Apparently the Court was not willing right now to venture back into that morass."
Liberty University's lawsuit represented the last substantive challenge to the reform law's employer mandate on the basis of congressional commerce and tax authority. However, the Supreme Court agreed late last month to review a handful of private employers' challenges of the law's contraception requirement on the grounds that it violates their rights to free expression of their religious beliefs.
This report appeared in Business Insurance magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.