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Barbara Benson, Crain's New York Business

Catholic employers exempt from Obamacare mandate

December 17, 2013 - 9:11am

Obamacare Contraception Mandate

A woman holds a sign on the steps of the Customs House in Charleston, S.C., during a rally on Friday, June, 8, 2012, protesting a federal mandate requiring employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control for workers.


Religious groups who sued over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requirement that they provide birth control won't have to comply with the mandate, a federal court in New York has ruled.

The plaintiffs, a group of New York Roman Catholic organizations that were part of a national effort to fight the contraception coverage mandate, argued that Obamacare's provisions violated their freedom of speech and their religious beliefs, which preclude them from “facilitating access to abortion-inducing products, contraception, sterilization, and related counseling,” according to the decision last week.

Judge Brian Cogan's decision, issued on Dec. 13 but made available electronically on Monday, said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could not implement the regulations, which require the Catholic religious groups and their health plans to provide insurance coverage to employees and their covered dependents for Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling, because they violate the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The plaintiffs in the case included the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, the Catholic Health Care System, Catholic Health Services of Long Island, Cardinal Spellman High School; and Monsignor Farrell High School, who were among Catholic groups that filed the lawsuits in 12 federal courts last year.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre also sued but these organizations, unlike schools and health systems, are “are entirely exempt from the mandate as religious employers.”

Catholic schools and health systems are covered under the mandate but, the judge said, don't have to provide contraceptive coverage.

“The Government has failed to show that the mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling governmental interest,” the judge wrote.

Barbara Benson writes for Crain's New York Business, a sister publication of Business Insurance.