ACA objection by provider earns temporary injunction
Justice Sonia Sotomayor weighed ACA-related arguments from the DOJ and a Catholic provider.
A Catholic long-term care provider and the federal government opposed each other in recent Supreme Court filings over the Affordable Care Act's so-called “contraception mandate.”
Under the ACA's mandatory preventive health services provision, insurers are required to cover birth control to women at no cost to the beneficiary. Nonprofit organizations opposed to contraception can fill out a form to avoid paying for this coverage, which then will be covered by the insurer.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, on behalf of Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns operating long-term care facilities nationwide, filed a lawsuit. The group argues that filling out the religious exemption form violates the nuns' beliefs; on the other hand, not doing so would cause penalties.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the Little Sisters' request for a temporary injunction on New Year's Eve, preventing the federal government from enforcing penalties while the case is ongoing.
The DOJ countered that the injunction should be lifted because the Little Sisters could avoid having to provide contraceptive coverage “with the stroke of their pen,” and the organization utilizes a church health plan that is not regulated by the government. Thus, its whole argument is moot, since employees will not have birth control coverage through their employer-based health insurance whatever the case's outcome, the DOJ argued.
Sotomayor, who has
jurisdiction over the district where the case was filed, did not indicate when she would make a final decision regarding the injunction.
The Little Sisters' church health plan makes its case distinct, but there are dozens of similar suits. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the Hobby Lobby case in March. The decision there will lay the groundwork for determining other cases from plaintiffs ranging from the University of Notre Dame to the health benefits arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.