Attorney General Morrisey Calls for Broader Religious Exemptions
CHARLESTON -- Attorney General Patrick Morrisey today announced that he has joined twelve other state attorneys general in asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to adopt broader religious exemptions to an insurance mandate imposed pursuant to the Affordable Care Act.
“HHS’s proposed amendments fail to address the deep faith-based concerns that many organizations and businesses have with the government demanding that they pay for certain types of health care services,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “The proposed amendments violate the religious freedoms on which this country was built because they allow houses of worship to be exempt from a mandate, but they do not apply the same principle to nonprofit or for-profit companies with faith-based objections.”
Last year, HHS mandated that all employers and insurance companies -- including those with religious and conscience-based objections -- provide coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures, including the “morning-after pill” and the “week-after pill,” as part of the Affordable Care Act. Over the past year, more than 50 lawsuits have been filed challenging the mandate and its limited exemption for churches and other places of worship, which HHS is defending in court.
HHS proposed amendments last month to allow an “accommodation” for certain other nonprofit religious organizations, such as Catholic Charities, to avoid paying directly for contraceptive coverage by instead requiring their insurance companies to separately provide “free” coverage. The proposed regulations provide no exemption or accommodation for for-profit business owners who object on religious or conscience grounds.
The letter from the thirteen attorneys general is a public comment on the failure of the proposed amendments to address the faith and conscience-based objections regarding the original mandate. If the regulations are adopted, they may be challenged in court.
In their letter, the attorneys general explain that the proposed regulations do not remedy the legal infirmities that led to the spate of lawsuits challenging the existing rules. In particular, the proposals still run afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires “strict scrutiny” of all federal government actions that burden the exercise of religion. The amendments fail that high threshold because there is no compelling reason to deny to other nonprofit religious organizations the exemption provided to churches and places of worship.
“The government is willing to grant an exception to one group but is unwilling to grant it to others who have raised similar concerns,” Morrisey said. “That is confounding and wrong.”
In addition, the attorneys general say that the cost-shifting accommodation is a “shell game” and “accounting gimmick” that does not alleviate the burden on the nonprofits’ exercise of religion.
“We all know that insurance companies do not provide anything for free; the employers are still going to be paying for these services through increased premiums or otherwise even if the insurance company technically covers those products through a separate ‘free’ policy,” the attorneys general write.
Finally, the attorneys general take issue with the failure to provide an exception or accommodation for for-profit business owners who have religious-or conscience-based objections.
Attorney General Morrisey joined attorneys general from Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas in signing the letter. The Obama administration is accepting comments on the proposed regulations until April 8.