The U.S. Supreme Court, a group of religious employers, and lawyers for the Obama administration have sketched out a framework for a new class of supplemental birth-control insurance policies.
The court today talked about the new products in a unanimous, anonymous opinion on Zubik et al. v. Burwell et al. (Case Number 14-1418).
The court told Obama administration officials and departments to stop trying to make religious employers actively opt out of providing the birth-control benefits required by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Instead, the administration should look into having health insurers offer free birth-control-only coverage to the workers in group health plans that fail to provide birth-control benefits, the court says.
Justice Samuel Alito talked about that idea in March, when the court heard oral arguments on the case.
The court used the Zubik opinion to address a group of cases brought by religious employers with fully insured health plans and by colleges and universities that offer access to student health benefits.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care of 2010 (PPACA) requires the HHS secretary to work with the Institute of Medicine and the HHS Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to develop a package of basic preventive services that every non-grandfathered health plan must cover. Plans must cover the preventive services, such as flu shots and checkups, without imposing deductibles, co-payments or other cost-sharing requirements on the patients. The previous HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, added the birth-control benefits mandate to the package by adopting a HRSA recommendation.
HHS lets employers and student health plan sponsors that object to providing birth-control benefits for religious reasons opt out. The department has been trying to require the plan sponsors that opt out to send it notices, so that it can fill in the enrollees’ birth-control coverage gaps.
The religious employers and schools that sued to block that requirement say that, from their perspective, even sending the opt-out notices would make them morally responsible to provide birth-control benefits.
The Supreme Court declined to rule on the merits of the religious employers’ suits. It said the parties should start by working with the lower courts to flesh out the birth-control-benefits-only compromise and see if that will resolve their dispute.
For in-depth coverage of the opinion from a legal perspective, see Justices Tell Lower Courts to Craft Compromise for Contraceptive Insurance, by Tony Mauro and Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal. The National Law Journal is part of ALM, the company that now owns LifeHealthPro.com.