Supreme Court Avoids Ruling on ACA’s Contraceptive Coverage Mandate

shutterstock_341042498Instead of issuing an opinion and ruling on the merits of the cases surrounding the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage mandate, the U.S. Supreme Court sent seven related cases challenging said mandate back to the lower courts to be reconsidered. In all of the related cases, nonprofit religious employers challenged the self-certification requirement under the accommodations approach, arguing that it infringes upon their religious liberty.

In an effort to find a solution that satisfies both parties, the Supreme Court’s May 16, 2016 order instructs the lower courts to reconsider all of the cases to arrive at an alternative approach that both accommodates the employers’ exercise of religious freedom and ensures that all women have access to contraceptive coverage as is the intent of the ACA’s contraceptive mandate.

The Supreme Court’s decision to remand the cases back to the lower courts came after the parties submitted their additional briefs where each indicated that there may be a workable compromise that would satisfy both parties. Specifically, the religious nonprofit employers “clarified that their religious exercise is not infringed where they ‘need to do nothing more than contract for a plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception,’ even if their employees receive cost-free contraceptive coverage from the same insurance company.” The federal government stated also that, the self-certification requirement “for employers with insured plans could be modified to operate in the manner posited in the [Supreme] Court’s order while still ensuring that the affected women receive contraceptive coverage seamlessly, together with the rest of their health coverage.”

By sending the cases back down to the lower courts, the Supreme Court did not address the cases on their merits and thus, did not address whether the ACA’s contraceptive mandate violates religious liberty, among other issues. It will certainly be interesting to see if the parties, who have waged a contentious battle through the court system to date, will actually be able to compromise on these issues.

To learn more about ACA compliance and creating customized benefit programs that represent your company’s goals, contact the AssuredPartners NL Employee Benefits Team.

Sources: Zywave and U.S. Supreme Court Opinion

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