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Missouri to Take on HHS Birth Control Mandate

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Missouri lawmakers have set the stage for a federal court battle by protecting a new law that would exempt employers with religious objections from the new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) birth control coverage requirements.

Members of both the state House and the state Senate agreed Wednesday to override a move by Gov. Jay Nixon, D, to veto the religious exemption bill, Senate Bill 749.

The new law created by S.B. 749 will free any employee, self-employed person or other person from the need to obtain coverage for, or to be penalized for declining coverage for, abortion, contraception or sterilization in a health plan if those items are procedures conflict with the person’s religious beliefs or moral convictions, according to a bill summary.

The new law also exempts any employer, health plan provider, plan sponsor, or health care provider from having to provide coverage for, or from being punished for declining to provide coverage for, abortion, contraceptiion or sterilization health plan benefits if those benefits would conflict with that entity’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.

The law lets the state attorney general protect individuals, employers and other parties that use the law by filing a civil suit in any appropriate state or federal court.

Nixon vetoed S.B. 749, which was sponsored by state Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, Mo., in July.

Nixon said at the time that the state’s existing law already lets employers opt out of providing contraceptive coverage if doing so conflicts with their religious or moral convictions.

Nixon said he objected to S.B. 749 because it would let insurers opt out of providing contraceptive coverage even if women or their employers wanted contraceptives covered.

“This bill would allow insurance companies to override the rights and beliefs of employees and employers,” Nixon said.

The Kansas City Star is reporting that the Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Woman and a female have filed a suit in a state court alleging that the state law violates federal law.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) requires individual health insurers and group health plans to cover a basic set of preventive services developed by HHS without imposing cost-sharing requirements on the patients.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has ruled that preventive services packages should include services and products aimed at women — including Pap smears and breastfeeding supplies as well as contraceptive services — starting with plan years beginning on or after Aug. 1.

The mandate does not require plans to cover abortion services.

A safe harbor issued by HHS in February frees houses of worship, religious denominations and other clearly religious employers from having to offer birth control benefits.

The safe harbor does not provide an exemption for colleges, hospitals and other types of nonprofit employers that are formally or informally affiliated with religious organizations or for other employers that object to providing birth control or sterilization benefits.