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Court Grants Relief to College With Religious Objections to Providing Contraceptive Coverage



Geneva College v. HHS, 2018 WL 3348982 (W.D. Pa. 2018)

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A federal trial court has granted a permanent injunction to a nonprofit college with religious objections to the contraceptive coverage mandate and accommodation process. As background, non-grandfathered group health plans must provide coverage without cost-sharing for certain preventive services, including contraceptives. Qualifying religious employers are exempt from the mandate, and an accommodation process is available for certain other employers with religious objections. Interim final regulations (issued in October 2017) expanded the exemption and made the accommodation process voluntary (see our Checkpoint article), but a preliminary injunction was subsequently issued that blocks the federal government from expanding the exemption (see our Checkpoint article).

The trial court in this case previously granted the college a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the mandate; however, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision. The college requested review by the U.S. Supreme Court (consolidated with other cases), which vacated the Third Circuit’s decision and sent the case back to the Third Circuit (see our Checkpoint article). In the midst of the appellate process, after a change in presidential administrations, the college asked the trial court for a permanent injunction. The trial court has now granted the permanent injunction, holding that the government’s enforcement of the mandate and its implementing regulations, which include an accommodation process that requires qualifying employers with religious objections to provide a notice that triggers and facilitates provision of contraceptive coverage by third parties, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The trial court noted that the government has agreed that enforcement of the mandate and accommodation process against the college would violate the RFRA, and no longer intends to offer a substantive defense regarding this issue.

EBIA Comment: The government’s decision not to enforce the contraceptive coverage mandate and accommodation process against entities with religious objections means that we can expect to see more injunction requests. In addition, employers potentially eligible for the expanded exemption under the October 2017 regulations (which are currently blocked) should monitor developments until there is a more concrete resolution. For more information, see EBIA’s Health Care Reform manual at Section XII.C (“Coverage of Preventive Health Services”), EBIA’s Group Health Plan Mandates manual at Section XIV.E (“Contraceptive Coverage: Exemptions and Accommodations Based on Religious Beliefs and Moral Convictions”), and EBIA’s Self-Insured Health Plans manual at Section XIII.C.1 (“Federally Mandated Benefits: Preventive Health Services”).

Contributing Editors: EBIA Staff.

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