Supreme Court tosses ruling in favor of ObamaCare mandate

Supreme Court tosses ruling in favor of ObamaCare mandate
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The Supreme Court on Monday gave new life to a lawsuit challenging ObamaCare’s contraception mandate, striking down a previous ruling in favor of the federal government.

The justices asked an appeals court in Cincinnati to reconsider a legal challenge that the Catholic ministries in Michigan and Tennessee filed against an ObamaCare provision that requires employers to cover birth control for all workers.

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The justices asked the lower court to reconsider the case in light of last year's landmark ruling on the contraception mandate. That decision, issued last June, held that the arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby could opt out of the contraception mandate for religious reasons.

Since then, religious-affiliated companies and organizations across the country have pushed new legal challenges of the provision.

Religious freedom groups on Monday quickly cheered the court’s decision.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed an amicus brief in the case, called it a “strong signal” that more courts will ultimately take their side in the longstanding fight against the ObamaCare mandate.

“It makes it less likely that lower courts will accept arguments the Supreme Court has rejected over and over and over again,” the group’s senior counsel, Mark Rienzi, wrote in a statement.

Monday’s Michigan Catholic Conference v. Burwell ruling marks the sixth time that the court has thrown out decisions that upheld Obama administration policies, sending the cases back to the lower courts for reconsideration.

The court also gave hope to Catholic groups last month when it struck down a lower court’s ruling requiring the University of Notre Dame to follow the birth-control mandate. That court will now revisit the case from the Roman Catholic university.

The Michigan Catholic Conference, which describes itself as the "official voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan," had joined with other Catholic ministries to demand an exemption from the financial penalties for not providing contraceptives in employee healthcare plans.

Under current law, the groups can receive an exemption by writing a letter to the Health and Human Services Department or filling out a two-page form to document their objections.

But the groups said those extra steps created an “unjustified substantial burden” and called for the same kind of across-the-board exemption that houses of worship received under the law.  

Lower courts have generally ruled in favor of the Obama administration, arguing that the extra form does not constitute a substantial burden for companies and organizations.

“That bit of paperwork is more straightforward and minimal than many that are staples of nonprofit organizations’ compliance with law in the modern administrative state,” U.S. Circuit Judge Nina Pillard wrote.

Nationally, insurance companies have seen few employers seeking exemptions from the birth control mandate, according to a survey released last week by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

"All the carriers interviewed indicated that the number of employers requesting accommodation represented only a small fraction of their consumers and that they had ‘very few, if any’ requests for the religious accommodation," the report found. 

The study also found widespread issues of compliance with the contraception mandate, even five years after its passage into law.

While the provision was meant to provide free or low-cost birth control, the report found that many women still face limitations in obtaining coverage.

— This story was updated at 2:44 p.m.