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EMPLOYEE MATTERS: Supreme Court to hear arguments on birth control mandate

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By Matt Dunning, Crain News Service

WASHINGTON (March 25, 2014) — The U.S. Supreme Court this week will hear oral arguments in two cases challenging the federal government’s authority to compel private employers to provide contraceptive prescription coverage to their employees under the healthcare reform law.

Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., based in East Earl, Pa., and Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. each sued the federal government in 2012 over a controversial provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to provide their group health benefit plan members with cost-free insurance coverage for contraceptive prescriptions and other preventive care services.

Oral arguments in both cases have been consolidated into a single hearing scheduled for March 25.

The companies were among the dozens of private for-profit employers—most of which are owned and operated by devout Christian families—that have asked federal courts for an injunction blocking the ACA’s requirement on the grounds that compliance would force them to choose between facilitating healthcare services that conflict with their religious beliefs or paying a $2,000-per-year-per-employee penalty for excluding contraceptives from their insurance plans.

In doing so, the companies claim the contraception requirement violates their rights to free expression of religion under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Conestoga is seeking a reversal of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ July 2013 rejection of its challenge to the requirement. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has asked the Supreme Court to overturn the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ June 2013 decision granting Hobby Lobby’s request for a temporary exemption from the coverage requirement, pending the final outcome of the company’s lawsuit.

A decision by the Supreme Court is expected by the summer.

This report appeared in Crain’s Business Insurance magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.

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