By: Patrick Ouellette, Esq.
Amid broader health policy discussions around the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Trump Administration recently, and somewhat quietly, released new final rules that would expand the scope of the ACA contraceptive mandate exemption to potentially include more types of employers. The two rules are “Exemptions for Religious Beliefs” (CMS-9940-F2), aimed at large, publicly traded companies, and “Exemptions for Moral Convictions” (CMS-9925-F), which is geared toward nonprofit organizations and small businesses.
The intent of these rules was to extend the availability of the exemption to employers that, if they do not necessarily have sincerely held religious beliefs, can use “moral convictions” to oppose services covered by the ACA’s contraceptive mandate protections. If these rules sounds familiar, they should because the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released interim versions in October 2017 that were meant to accomplish the same goals. The most recent iteration of the rules were meant to be final, as they will take effect 60 days after their publication in The Federal Register, or in January 2019. Interestingly HHS estimated that the exemptions “should affect no more than approximately 200 employers with religious or moral objections, with many entities not being affected because they were already permitted not to cover contraceptives under the previous rules, or are protected by permanent court injunctions.”
Employers that have been closely monitoring HHS contraceptive mandate enforcement since 2017 and waiting to determine whether they qualified for religious exemptions would now have more a more concrete legal basis after the rules are published to make a contraceptive coverage decision either way. However, as my colleague Kelly Dempsey cautioned in January 2018, employers and TPAs should be wary of the litany of states that have already sued the Trump administration over the 2017 rules and the potential for more lawsuits against the administration.
As it stands now, the states that have sued include Pennsylvania, California, Washington, and Massachusetts. Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia joined California in its suit. The California and Pennsylvania attorneys general suits resulted in federal judges granting nationwide injunctions against the 2017 proposed rules, but both are currently under appeal. There will likely be more litigation in response to CMS-9940-F2 and CMS-9925-F; the new rules have also drawn scrutiny from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.