More enforcement concerns loom for the Affordable Care Act as another federal decision keeps employers under a religious group plan from swallowing the pill of providing complete contraceptive coverage to its female employees. In Reaching Souls International Inc. et al. v. Sebelius et al., Case No. CIV-13-1092-D, the plaintiffs provided employees with a group health plan sponsored by the GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention (GuideStone). The GuideStone plan provided group health benefits on a self-insured basis for organizations associated with the Southern Baptist Convention who relied on GuideStone to provide coverage consistent with those views. The government maintained that the ACA mandates complete contraceptive coverage as a preventive care service for women. Plaintiffs challenged this mandate saying it violates both precedent and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Finding guidance from the Tenth Circuit’s June 27, 2013, holding in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, 723 F.3d 1114 (10th Cir. 2013), the judge in Reaching Souls granted the plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction that prevented Defendants, among them the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor, from taking any enforcement action against Plaintiffs. The federal judge went beyond protecting only the plaintiffs by protecting every employer who provided health care under the GuideStone plan.
The Supreme Court of the United States is set to hear the appeal of the Hobby Lobby decision in January. The owners of Hobby Lobby are Christian and claim that some of the contraception mandates clash with their own religious beliefs—and therefore the beliefs of Hobby Lobby. While religious freedom and religious practice claims are usually brought by individuals, the Supreme Court will have to answer if a corporation is entitled to the same rights. If so, the Court will also have to determine which eyes are proper for a corporation’s “religious viewpoint:” Would the corporation adopt the current owner’s views? Would the Court look at a mission statement that outlines the corporation’s religious convictions? Or would the Court take a shareholder vote where the majority decides the religion for all?
Regardless of the outcome, the fines make the mandate a hard pill to swallow for employers since non-compliance can cost up to $1.3 million dollars a day in fines.