Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote that Congress could take action to ensure women have access to the particular contraceptives that the Court ruled corporations such as Hobby Lobby, Inc. could omit from their employees’ health plans. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) took that action yesterday. Murray introduced legislation that would prohibit employers who offer health plans to their employees from excluding any of the essential health benefits required by law. A similar bill was proposed in the House.
The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act is aimed specifically at ensuring employers cannot deny their employees coverage of specific health services regardless of the employers' religious beliefs. The Supreme Court, in a June 30 opinion, ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 applies to for-profit corporations. The Act prohibits the government from placing a “substantial burden” on a person’s exercise of religion. Hobby Lobby argued that four of the contraceptives required as essential health benefits under the Affordable Care Act destroyed human embryos and paying for their coverage violated the company’s religious convictions.
To be compliant with Affordable Care Act, a health plan must include coverage of contraceptives with no co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. Houses of worship are exempted from this mandate. The Obama administration has provided a mechanism under which faith-based organizations, such as hospitals and schools, do not have to directly provide coverage for these services if they object to them. In these cases, insurers bear the responsibility of providing contraceptive coverage to employees.
Justice Ginsberg, in her dissenting opinion, wrote that the Courts decision makes it possible for employers to claim religious objections to other health services such as blood transfusions, vaccinations and antidepressants. Cecile Richards, President of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, notes that birth control has numerous health and medical benefits. However, the cost of prescription contraceptives can be prohibitive for lower-income women.
“We are here to ensure that no CEO or corporation can come between people and their guaranteed access to healthcare, period.” — Senator Patty Murray
Murray and Udall’s legislation has 38 co-sponsors, all democrats. In the House, Representatives DeGette, Nadlar and Slaughter have introduced a companion bill. It is unlikely the house bill will be considered in the Republican-controlled house.