Business Wins One on Obamacare

The U.S. Supreme Court today said that certain businesses that claim religious objections are exempt from the Obamacare provision requiring them to cover certain contraceptives for women.

The court ruled 5-4 on the side of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, two businesses that challenged the provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring profit-making businesses to provide contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans.

The four liberal justices ruled on behalf of Obamacare. Chief Justice John Roberts, who two years ago ruled with liberals that Obamacare was a tax that could be enforced, saving Obamacare, ruled with the majority.

The four justices Roberts sided with would have struck down Obamacare two years ago. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion.

The Associated Press said today’s decision is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law.

President Bill Clinton signed the 1993 law that the two companies sued under.

“What this law basically says,” Clinton said before signing the bill, “is that the government should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion.”

In the ACA, contraception was considered a preventive health service that must be offered at no charge to policyholders but paid by businesses even if they object on religious grounds.

According to the New York Times, the companies objected to some of the required coverage methods of contraception, saying they are tantamount to abortion because they can prevent embryos from implanting in the womb.

Providing insurance coverage for those forms of contraception would, the companies said, make them complicit in the practice, the Times said. The companies said they had no objection to other forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery.

The court stressed that its ruling applies only to corporations that are under the control of just a few people in which there is no essential difference between the business and its owners, the AP said.

It’s estimated that one-third of Americans are not subject to the requirement that their employers provide coverage for contraceptives. Small employers need not offer health coverage at all; religious employers like churches are exempt; religiously affiliated groups may claim an exemption; and some insurance plans that had not previously offered the coverage are grandfathered in, according to the Times.

The Obama administration argued that for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood must comply with the law or face fines. Hobby Lobby said that Obamacare instituted fines of $1.3 million a day if it chose not to offer comprehensive coverage and other fines of $26 million a year if it stopped offering insurance entirely.

-Dana Beyerle