DENVER – Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is challenging the part of the federal health care law that requires for-profit companies to offer employees health coverage that includes products the business owners find morally objectionable, such as certain types of contraception.
Few large American employers have weighed in on this because it’s a nonissue for them. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 85 per cent already offered such coverage before the Obama administration mandated it as part of its health care overhaul last year.
But a number of firms like Hobby Lobby, which is owned by an evangelical Christian family, argue the regulation violates their religious freedom.
Hobby Lobby, for example, already provides coverage of almost all contraceptives as part of its employees’ health insurance. It objects to the requirement that it now cover the so-called morning-after and week-after pills, saying that paying for those two treatments would violate its owners’ belief that life begins at fertilization.
Thirty-one private companies have sued to overturn the regulation on similar grounds. Their cases are pending. Hobby Lobby is the best-known; most of the others are smaller, family-run and privately held, so they do not have to run legal strategy by shareholders like larger, publicly traded firms do.
Businesses contemplating stepping into such heated issues also face other considerations. Papa John’s CEO, John Schnatter, last year complained that the entire health law — not just covering certain types of contraception — would hike the cost of his company’s pizzas. He then had to deal with a boycott organized by the federal law’s supporters.
Not every company with religiously observant ownership has sued. Chik-fil-A Inc., which says it operates on “biblically based principles” and closes on Sundays, has not challenged the health law’s mandate.
Reproductive rights groups argue businesses shouldn’t be able to use religious beliefs to mandate what type of health care their employees receive.
The dispute over the contraception coverage mandate is expected to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The companies with live claims challenging the contraception mandate include:
— Autocam Corp. of Michigan
— Grote Industries of Indiana
— Seneca Hardwood Lumber Co. of Pennsylvania
— Korte & Luitjohan Contractors of Illinois
— Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. of Pennsylvania
— Sioux Chief Manufacturing of Missouri
— Continuum Health Partnerships of Colorado
Source: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and The Kaiser Family Foundation