The Obama administration [official website] issued a new rule [text] on Friday detailing a broader exemption to the contraception mandate, allowing for religious nonprofits that object to providing health insurance coverage for birth control to opt out of the requirement. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [text, JURIST backgrounder], enacted in 2010, requires employer-provided health care [Bloomberg report] to cover government-recommended preventive services, including birth control pills and sterilization procedures, without co-payments. Since the Act's conception, the Obama administration has been faced with numerous lawsuits [Huffington Post report] from private companies as well as state attorneys general [JURIST report]. According to Health and Human Services (HSS) [official website] Secretary Kathleen Sebelius [official profile], the new regulation [HHS press release] is an effort to provide women with cost-free coverage of recommended preventive care while respecting religious concerns. The rule, jointly-issued by Departments of the Treasury, Labor and HHS, states
[T]he rule would amend the criteria for the religious employer exemption to ensure that an otherwise exempt employer plan is not disqualified because the employer's purposes extend beyond the inculcation of religious values or because the employer serves or hires people of different religious faiths. [Also], the rule would establish accommodations for health coverage established or maintained by eligible organizations, or arranged by eligible organizations that are religious institutions of higher education, with religious objections to contraceptive coverage.Under these accommodations, a religious nonprofit would not have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds.
In December the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] temporarily enjoined [JURIST report] the enforcement of the PPACA's contraception mandate for an Illinois construction company, serving as the first time that a federal court had done so for a company operated by strongly religious owners. This ruling came on the heels of several businesses, including Hobby Lobby, Inc. and Mardel, Inc. [corporate websites], refusing to comply with a US Supreme Court [official website] order denying an injunction [JURIST reports] against the contraceptive coverage mandate. In June the Supreme Court upheld [JURIST report] PPACA, focusing on the "individual mandate" provision [text] of the act which requires every person, with some exceptions for religious and other reasons, to purchase some form of health insurance by January 1, 2014, or be subject to a fee equal to either a percent of that individual's income or flat rate of $695.