Week ahead: Hobby Lobby takes center stage

All eyes will be on the Supreme Court this week as the justices deliver their ruling in a challenge to ObamaCare’s contraception mandate, one of the term’s most anticipated decisions.

The high-stakes case, the second major challenge to President Obama’s healthcare law, could define how far companies go in citing religious freedom to exempt themselves from laws.

ADVERTISEMENT
The owners of Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and crafts stores, are challenging the mandate that they offer contraception to all employees, claiming it violates their religious beliefs.

The Obama administration is defending the mandate, claiming that the government has never given for-profit companies the religious leeway sought and that denying contraception coverage would unfairly hit employees who disagree with their owners’ religious views.

On Friday, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius warned that a victory for the company would have ramifications far beyond the Affordable Care Act.

She warned that if the court finds for Hobby Lobby, companies could use the ruling to opt out of paying for other federal programs or policies they disagree with.

“The balance between the public square and the private square in terms of religion has been a fundamental part of our democracy for a long time,” said Sebelius. “This would blur the lines, I think, in a very serious way.”

Hobby Lobby and other companies challenging the mandate don’t oppose providing all birth control, only emergency contraction.

But supporters of the law fear that even if the court ruling narrows the mandate, while leaving it in place, the decision could open the door to further challenges to ObamaCare.

In another lawsuit in the federal courts, the Catholic nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor are also challenging the mandate on behalf of nonprofit religious entities.

The high court last week delivered another high-profile healthcare ruling, with the justices unanimously striking down a Massachusetts law that created a fixed 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. The justices found that the buffer zone violated free speech rights under the First Amendment.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), co-chairwoman of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, said she felt some “trepidation” after that ruling as she looked ahead to the Hobby Lobby decision.

This week, the House and Senate are out of session as lawmakers head home for the Fourth of July recess.

On Monday, the Senate Special Committee on Aging will hold a hearing titled, “Sandwich Generation Squeeze: Confronting the Middle Class Struggle to Raise Kids, Care for Aging Parents, and Scrape Together Enough for Retirement in Today's Economy.” The hearing will be held at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh and will be led by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

The committee says the meeting will focus on difficulties families face as they care for aging parents, try to make a decent wage in today’s economy and save enough for a secure retirement. Panelists will include several members of the advocacy group Sandwich Generation and experts on aging.

Off Capitol Hill, the Brookings Institution will hold an event Tuesday titled “Exploring the Promise of Patient Medication Information.” Organizers say information on prescriptions is often complicated and confusing for patients to understand.

To find a solution to the problem, the Food and Drug Administration and other stakeholders will highlight progress on developing a unified and easy to understand format for patients.

 

Recent stories:

Healthcare spending drops despite O-Care enrollments: http://bit.ly/1mmY8c6

O-Care year two will include auto-enrollment: http://bit.ly/1mDWjMF

Senate panel advances autism research bill: http://bit.ly/1iCOmYy

GOP-led panel votes to expand abortion coverage: http://bit.ly/1pXzVPs

Medicare agency seeks funding to fight identify theft: http://bit.ly/1jW6eIB