Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court ruled against the coercive Obamacare HHS mandate, prohibiting the government from forcing two family businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, to provide coverage of potentially life-ending drugs and devices. The Court held that the HHS mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as it applied in this case. In the aftermath of the decision, many are wondering what effect the ruling will have on the President’s health care law. We answer some of those questions here:
Was the HHS mandate struck down?
No. The mandate to provide coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptives (including the four abortion-inducing drugs and devices at issue in the Supreme Court cases) still applies to all qualified health plans. The Court did not strike down the mandate, but said that the government cannot force these two family businesses that object to providing coverage of four potentially life-ending drugs and devices to comply with the mandate.
What happens to the other cases challenging this mandate?
They keep moving forward through the courts. There are more than 300 other family businesses, schools, and charitable organizations who will continue to fight against the coercive HHS mandate.
The roughly 50 for-profit cases seeking relief from complying with the mandate have essentially been on hold while the Supreme Court considered Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s cases. Now the lower courts will evaluate the claims of these other family businesses in light of the Hobby Lobby decision to determine whether or not those companies succeed on the merits of their claims.
The cases of more than 100 non-profit religious organizations challenging the rule, including Little Sisters of the Poor, will continue in the federal courts and could end up before the Supreme Court as early as next year.
Those plaintiffs have every reason to be hopeful that they, too, will win against the mandate. Less than 24 hours after the Hobby Lobby decision, federal courts and even the Supreme Court granted temporary injunctions against the mandate for seven non-profit organizations that would have had to comply with it on July 1. Numerous lower courts have done the same over the past few months, ruling against the mandate in 28 out of 34 non-profit cases.
What will happen to employees’ health care plans after this ruling?
With yesterday’s victory for religious freedom, the Greens’ and Hahns’ family businesses will be able to continue providing generous healthcare coverage for their employees without threat of government penalties. (The Greens’ and Hahns’ healthcare coverage already provides for 16 forms of birth control.) All women remain free to make their own decisions about their health care. But the government will not be able to force the family businesses to be involved in those decisions.
Does this ruling mean that other closely-held corporations can drop coverage for anything they have a religious objection to?
No. In fact, the Supreme Court specifically stated: “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.”
The Greens’ and Hanhs’ brought their cases under RFRA, which provides a commonsense way of balancing government interests with the fundamental right to religious liberty. The Court recognized that in addition to individuals and non-profit businesses, closely held for-profit family businesses could bring claims under RFRA. While providing a strong deference to religious freedom, RFRA does not determine the outcome of any particular case. For example, the Court noted in Hobby Lobby that “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.” Other claims for religious exemptions by closely held family businesses from other laws will have to be litigated on a case-by-case basis. RFRA doesn’t provide a blank check for religious believers to do whatever they want in the name of religion and neither does yesterday’s decision. It simply provides a mechanism for weighing competing values of religious liberty and the government’s interests.
Are there other parts of Obamacare currently being challenged?
Yes. Not surprisingly, the one-size-fits-all government control of healthcare that is the hallmark of Obamacare is threatening conscience rights and individual liberties in other areas. Lawsuits over the healthcare law’s exception for Members of Congress and federal subsidies for Obamacare exchanges are making their way through the courts. Another suit challenging the law’s origination in the Senate in violation of the Constitution’s requirement that “all bills for raising revenue … originate in the House” could bring down the entire law. In addition to trampling on religious freedom through this particular mandate, Obamacare is also forcing individuals and families to pay for coverage of elective abortions in exchange plans – often without their knowledge. One Connecticut family has filed suit against the Obama administration, claiming the lack of transparency about abortion in Connecticut’s exchange, coupled with a mandatory abortion surcharge on their insurance, is trampling on the family’s conscience rights.
So, did the Court strike down any part of the Obamacare statute?
No. This particular mandate was not the creation of Congress. Rather, the rule was devised by unelected bureaucrats in the Department of Health and Human Services, emboldened by their newfound power under the sweeping healthcare law. The health care law has given broad authority to the federal government to decide what insurance companies must cover, employers must provide, and individuals must purchase. That one-size-fits-all system of government control isn’t conducive to the protection of individual liberties, free markets, or fundamental freedoms. The HHS mandate is characteristic of Obamacare’s tendency toward coercion, which, in this case, the Court ruled impermissible.
To truly protect religious freedom and individual liberty, Obamacare must be repealed. Americans deserve true, patient-centered health reform that increases choice and respects their values and conscience rights.