contraceptive coverage

On January 14, 2019, US District Judge Wendy Beetlestone in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration’s carveouts to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage mandate. One day prior, US District Judge Haywood Gilliam in the US District Court for the Northern District of California issued a more limited injunction blocking the same carve outs from taking effect in 13 states plus the District of Columbia.

On October 6, 2017, the Trump administration issued rules that are the subject of these two decisions. The rules would have allowed employers to raise religious and moral objections to avoid the ACA’s requirement that contraceptive coverage be provided without cost sharing under their group health plans. Under the ACA, certain contraceptive products and services are included in the list of preventive services that must be covered by most group health plans without cost sharing. The available exemptions to this rule were limited.

Judge Beetlestone reasoned that the loss of contraceptive coverage would have resulted in “significant” and “proprietary harm” to the states by causing increased use of state-funded contraceptive services, along with increased costs associated with unintended pregnancies. Without the preliminary injunction, the Trump administration’s rules would have gone into effect on January 14, 2019. The preliminary injunction does not permanently block the rules, but rather it stops the rules from going into effect while legal challenges are being pursued. Judge Beetlestone indicated that she is likely to invalidate the rules, stating that the US Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury exceeded the scope of their authority under the ACA by issuing the carve outs.

Charnae Supplee, a law clerk in the Firm’s Washington, DC office, also contributed to this post. 

Late last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to look into exempting religious employers from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive mandate. Qualifying religious employers (e.g. houses of worship) are already exempt from providing contraceptive coverage under their benefit plans, and an accommodation process is provided for certain non-profit employers and closely held for-profit employers with religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage.

This new executive order is aimed at organizations like universities and charities, including entities such as the plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell. Last year, in Zubik, the US Supreme Court failed to decide whether the contraceptive-coverage mandate requirements (Contraception Mandate) and its accommodation violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) by forcing religious non-profits to act in violation of their religious beliefs. Although the ACA regulations included an exemption from contraceptive coverage for the group health plans of religious employers, the exemption did not provide that such services would not be covered. The services are just not covered through a cost-sharing mechanism born by the religious employers. The Contraception Mandate requires these organizations to “facilitate” the provision of insurance coverage for contraceptive services that they oppose on religious grounds.  Many religious organizations were opposed to the requirement to facilitate, since they felt the requirement made them complicit in making contraception available, which violates their RFRA rights.