Last Updated:April 20 @ 03:33 pm

Obamacare rule change not enough, Hobby Lobby attorney says

By Tulsa World

Tulsa's Catholic hospitals had little response Friday to proposed federal rules that would loosen contraception insurance requirements for church-related nonprofit organizations, but an attorney for an Oklahoma City company challenging the mandate in court said the change would do nothing to protect the religious liberty of millions of Americans.

"We are extremely disappointed with today's announcement," said Kyle Duncan, one of the attorneys representing Hobby Lobby in its federal court challenge of Affordable Care Act requirements. "We remain committed to protecting religious liberty until the administration recognizes the conscience rights of all Americans."

The federal health law -- "Obama- care" -- requires inclusion of contraception with no co-pays or deductibles for women in all employer-provided health coverage.

Churches were already exempted from the requirements, but the rules proposed Friday offer to wire around them for church-related nonprofits such as schools and hospitals.

The nonprofit organizations wouldn't have to buy contraception-funding insurance, but their insurance companies would have to provide separate coverage to insured women at no cost under the proposed rules. A complex scheme of reimbursement to third-party administrators would result in essentially the same result for self-insured nonprofits.

St. John Medical Center and Saint Francis Health System -- both of which appear to be potentially covered by Friday's exception -- referred requests for comments to a statement from the Catholic Health Association, which said only that it looked forward to studying the proposal.

A statement from Saint Francis added that it would be speculative to comment on the proposal's outcome until the rule-making process ends.

But Duncan said the proposed rules fall far short of what is needed to protect the religious liberty of for-profit employers.

"Today's proposed rule does nothing to protect the religious freedom of millions of Americans. For instance, it does nothing to protect the rights of family businesses like Hobby Lobby," he said.

"The administration obviously realizes that the ... mandate puts constitutional rights at risk," Duncan said. "There would have been an easy way to resolve this -- expanding the exemption -- but the proposed rule expressly rejects that option."

While its owners don't object to many forms of contraception, Hobby Lobby has argued in court that some of the methods included under the mandate would amount to chemical abortions in violation of the religious beliefs of company founders.

Federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have turned away the arts and crafts store chain's requests for an injunction to block the mandate.

The company's legal challenge to the mandate is pending at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In January, the company announced that it would shift the timing of its employee health plan to stave off fines of up to $1.3 million a day for failing to obey the federal requirements.

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official said the proposed rules protect women and religiously affiliated groups.

"The administration is committed to working with all employers to give them the flexibility and resources they need to implement the health-care law in a way that both protects women's health and makes common-sense accommodations for religious belief," Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, deputy director of the federal Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said in a teleconference from Washington on Friday.

The law requires employer-provided health-care plans to include a long list of preventive health-care measures for women without any out-of-pocket costs. Most of the services -- things such as well-woman visits and domestic violence counseling -- were relatively uncontroversial.

But the mandate's contraception requirement has brought 44 lawsuits, including the Hobby Lobby case.

The proposed rules would still provide women who work for religion-affiliated nonprofits with no-expense contraception but would build a wall of separation between the employer and the coverage.

If a nonprofit provides its employees with coverage through an insurance company, the insurance company is required to provide a free policy to the nonprofit's women to cover contraceptives. Arguing that contraceptives have health benefits that lower the total cost of covering women, the Obama administration expects insurance companies to absorb the cost of the contraceptive coverage.

"Independent scientists and experts at the Institute of Medicine, who first recommended covering contraception free of charge, know that there are tremendous health benefits for women that come from using contraception," Brooks-LaSure said.

If the nonprofit is self- insured, the plan's third-party administrator is required to purchase contraceptive insurance coverage at no cost to the woman or the nonprofit. The third-party providers will be reimbursed the costs of the insurance through lowered fees to participate in health insurance exchanges in states where those exchanges are run by the federal government. In places with state-run exchanges, the costs can be shifted to affiliated third-party providers in other states.

Again, under the assumption that contraceptives lower the cost of health care, the administration maintains that taxpayers will not end up with any higher costs because of the coverage.

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(c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)

Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at www.tulsaworld.com

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6 Comments

  1. Ollie_FanComment by Ollie_Fan
    February 4, 2013 @ 10:08 am

    Isn’t it such a gas that Hobby Lobby is putting up more of a fight against Obama than most Republicans in Congress?

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  2. Mort_fComment by Mort_f
    February 4, 2013 @ 10:49 am

    While I am certain that Hobby Lobby is standing up, by its actions, with the Catholic Church, will the Catholic Church stand up for Hobby Lobby? Better yet, will all professed Christians follow suit. And I do not exempt my ‘fellow jews’ from that plea. Even atheists should recognize the total overreach of the Federal government.

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  3. rrg51Comment by rrg51
    February 4, 2013 @ 11:32 am

    Those without a moral compass or conscience can barely imagine a church having one, but certainly not an individual person.

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    Rating: 4.4/5 (7 votes cast)
  4. my04301933Comment by my04301933
    February 4, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

    If a ASSOCIATED PRESS news flash announced this week end a White House confirmation on Saturday that the Catholic Church’s medical insurance coverage, under the rules of the Affordable Care Act…should also include ministers of the cloth…such as Nuns, as well..

    …would mean contraceptives as well?

    What a group of misfits we have hired to run this country…

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  5. BillzillaComment by Billzilla
    February 4, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

    Stall, stall, stall, until Obamacare is fully implemented, and them it will be impossible to eradicate. Obama’s taken a page from the Iranian’s stalling on their nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile Obamacare spreads much like a fast growing cancer in the land!

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  6. cfhardersonComment by cfharderson
    February 4, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

    The Constitution of the United States affords its citizens the freedom of religion. Actually it gives us as individuals the freedom to choose our religion. There is to be NO government mandated religion as in many counties throughout the world. The Church of England was founded by King Henry VIII. Lutheran churches were the state churches in many parts of northern Europe including Germany. It was because of these state religions that many came to the Colonies to escape religious persecution.

    Is NOT Hobby Lobby by their denial of coverage of women’s reproductive prescriptions forcing their religious beliefs on their employees ? Should a company have the right to force their personal religious beliefs on their employees? Should not the employees have their same freedom of religion as the Green family members?

    In fact, how does providing coverage of women’s reproductive prescriptions undermine the Green family members religious freedoms ?

    I have some related concerns about women’s reproductive policies of Hobby Lobby.

    Does Hobby Lobby have a written maturative policy that takes into account the health and well-being of both the mother and the child (fetus)?

    Does this maternity policy include a period of paid medical leave?

    Does Hobby Lobby provide some paid spousal maternity leave to the spouse of a woman who has just delivered their child?

    Does Hobby Lobby provide any child care assistance for their employees?

    Does Hobby Lobby have policies that encourage employees that are parents to actively participate in their child’s education?

    Does Hobby Lobby actively promote families by policies that encourage employee family and community activities ?

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