Circuit Split Leaves Nebraska and Iowa in Limbo on ACA Contraceptive Mandate

On September 17, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (8th Circuit) ruled against the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in two cases regarding the contraceptive mandate found within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The 8th Circuit determined that nonprofit religious organizations do not have to provide contraceptive coverage or participate in the accommodation process designed to alleviate concerns for religious objectors under the ACA. For those residing in the court’s jurisdiction, which includes Nebraska and Iowa, this ruling interjects ambiguity because this is the only circuit court to rule against HHS on this issue.

The two cases, Dordt Coll. v. Burwell, No. 14-2726 (8th Cir. 2015) and Sharpe Holdings, Inc. v. HHS, No. 14-1507 (8th Cir. 2015), pertained to religious organizations that fell outside of the religious employer exemption, instead falling in another category. This category, designed by HHS, provides for the nonprofit entity by granting a religious accommodation. The religious accommodation allows nonprofit organizations to notify HHS of their objections, which also requires the nonprofit provide updates and further information about the objection. Once notified, HHS would begin a procedure that would ultimately require another party to provide contraceptive benefits to the beneficiary of the nonprofit’s health plan. The 8th Circuit determined the nonprofit organization is neither required to notify HHS or provide contraceptives to the health plan beneficiaries.

This poses a problem for those within the 8th Circuit’s jurisdiction because it is the lone circuit to rule against HHS on this issue and it is expected that the United States Supreme Court will take up this issue in the fall term. In the meantime, those in Nebraska, Iowa, and similar 8th Circuit jurisdictions are subject to an ambiguous and evolving standard. For those employers in the 8th Circuit’s jurisdiction considering applying this ruling, counsel should be contacted prior to moving forward.

© 2015 Houghton Vandenack Williams
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