On June 28, 2013, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (the Health Department) issued a final rule concerning the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Mandate). The regulations of the final rule require health insurance plans to provide coverage of contraception and abortifacients, with an exemption for health plans offered by churches and their integrated auxiliaries.
The regulations of the Mandate also provide an accommodation for health plans by certain qualified religious organizations, but it still results in the organization's provision of coverage for abortion-inducing products, contraception, sterilization, and related counseling. The organization is required to execute a self-certification of its non-profit, religious status as well as its opposition to coverage of contraceptive services. The organization is further required to provide the self-certification to its insurance company or, if self-insured, to a third party administrator (TPA). The insurance company or TPA is then automatically required to provide or arrange payments for contraceptive services for the organization's employees and participants of the plan.
The Diocese of Greensburg (the Diocese), operates a self-insured health plan through a charitable trust (the Trust), and the trust provides coverage to diocesan-entities, including a non-profit corporation (the Corporation) and a Catholic school (the School), both of which are affiliated with the Diocese. While the Diocese was exempt from compliance with the Mandate, the Corporation and the School were only accommodated. Both the Bishop and the Diocese would be required to facilitate coverage of abortifacients, contraception, sterilization and related education and counseling through their participation in the operation of the Trust under the self-certification provision, and they claimed that doing so would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.
In a case with similar facts, Zubik v. Sebelius
, 13-CV-1459, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165922 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 21, 2013), the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granted the Bishops, Dioceses, and their affiliates a permanent injunction that enjoined the federal government from applying or enforcing the requirements under the Mandate. The Diocese reached out to the government for an extension to itself and its affiliated entities, but the government refused to agree to an injunction.
On May 27, 2014, the Diocese, along with its Bishop, the Corporation and the School, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Treasury, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief as well as attorneys' fees under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 551, Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1. The Plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, claimed that the Mandate substantially burdened the Plaintiffs' religious beliefs and threatened the Plaintiffs with imminent injury that should be remedied by a court, in violation of RFRA, APA and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Defendants conceded that their arguments are identical to those made in Persico v. Sebelius
, 13-cv-303, and Zubik
, with the exception of a "self-insured church plan" argument. The defendants claimed that the Plaintiffs failed to establish injury in fact, because they could have offered a self-insured church plan to their employees and the federal government would have no regulatory authority to require TPAs of self-insured church plans to provide contraceptive services for the participants.
On June 20, 2014, the District Court (Judge Arthur J. Schwab) issued a memorandum opinion and an order, granting the Plaintiffs a preliminary injunction that enjoined the federal government from applying or enforcing the requirements under the Mandate upon the Plaintiffs. In the opinion, Judge Schwab applied the same reasoning as in the Court's opinions in Persico
. The Court declined to address the "self-insured church plan" contention raised by the Defendants for lack of facts. The Defendants appealed the order to the Third Circuit.
The Court granted the Plaintiffs' Motion for a Permanent Injunction on August 20, 2014, in a memorandum opinion and a final judgment and order written by Judge Schwab. The Court discussed and rejected the Defendants' "self-insured church plan" argument in Footnote 11 of the opinion. The case is ongoing. Emma Bao - 11/12/2014