Many Employers Had Been Planning for a Decision Upholding Affordable Care Act Requirements
By Rachel Feintzeig
Some employers that had argued their religious beliefs prevented them from complying with federal health-law regulations said they are planning to stop covering certain contraceptives following Monday’s Supreme Court decision.
In a 5-4 split vote, the high court ruled that “closely held” companies can on religious grounds opt out of Affordable Care Act requirements that company-sponsored health plans pay for employees’ contraceptives.
Many employers had been quietly planning for a decision in the other direction, considering options such as a sale of assets or paying large fines if the high court decided that they had to cover all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration without charging copayments.
Instead, the firms said they would prepare to revert to earlier policies they say are in line with their religious and moral convictions.
Atlas Machine and Supply Inc., an industrial machinery and engineering company with headquarters in Louisville, Ky., used to cover some forms of contraception for employees, but not the so-called morning-after pill, which some people consider a form of abortion. In January, when the Affordable Care Act went into effect, the company started paying for the drug, despite misgivings from president and owner Rich Gimmel, who is an evangelical Christian.
“I just felt I was being required to do something that I consider morally objectionable,” he said.
Last January, the company sent a letter to its 210 employees informing them that management didn’t agree with the benefit and planned to stop covering it as soon as it was legal to do so.
He said he didn’t get any negative feedback from employees after the letter was sent, adding that a few contacted him to voice their agreement. “Our position is, we don’t think people should be banned from getting it, but I shouldn’t be required to pay for it,” he said.
The challenge to the federal health law was brought by Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City arts-and-crafts chain owned by founder David Green and his evangelical Christian family, along with the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a Pennsylvania cabinetmaker. Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion didn’t set a clear definition of a closely held company, but the Internal Revenue Service defines as closely held any company majority-owned by five or fewer individuals at any time during the last half of the tax year.
Hastings Automotive Inc. and Hastings Chrysler Center Inc., a pair of Minnesota car dealerships that employ an ordained pastor and offer employees a voluntary leadership training program that cites the Bible and Jesus Christ, have been covering employees’ morning-after pills and intrauterine devices for months, according to the company’s lawyer. Doug Erickson, the company’s president, said he is eager to halt the benefit.
“We run our business according to the teachings of my faith,” he said, adding that he believes his colleagues agree and are supportive of his plan.
While some religious business owners cheered the decision, other groups were swift to condemn it. The nonprofit National Health Law Program called the ruling “wrong and dangerous,” with the group’s director of reproductive health saying that it lets employers “get between women and their doctors.” The National Women’s Law Center said the ruling “dealt a blow to women’s health,” an opinion echoed by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.