WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is wading into its fourth dispute over President Barack Obama’s 5-year-old health care overhaul.
The latest “Obamacare” case involves objections by faith-based hospitals, colleges and charities to the process the administration devised to spare them from paying for contraceptives for women covered under their health plans, and yet ensure that those women can obtain birth control at no extra cost.
The groups complain that they remain complicit in making available the contraceptives in violation of their religious beliefs.
Seven out of eight federal appeals courts have agreed with the administration that requiring the faith-based groups to make their objection known and identify their insurer or insurance administrator does not violate a federal religious freedom law.
Only the appeals court in St. Louis ruled for the groups, saying they probably have a right to refuse to comply with the administration rules.
The justices on Friday said they would hear pending appeals from groups in Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, DC.
The case will be argued in late March.
Among the challengers are the Little Sisters of the Poor, nuns who run more than two dozen nursing homes for impoverished seniors.
The administration has argued that the accommodation it came up with does not violate the nonprofits’ religious rights. Even if the Supreme Court rejects that argument, the administration has said in court papers, the justices should determine that the system for getting contraceptives to women covered by the groups’ insurance plans is the most effective and efficient way to do so.
The high court has twice preserved the health overhaul, but has allowed some for-profit employers with religious objections to refuse to pay for contraceptives for women.
Houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith are exempt from the requirement to offer birth control.
For other religious-affiliated nonprofit groups such as hospitals and schools, the administration argues that the accommodation creates a generous moral and financial buffer between religious objectors and funding birth control. The nonprofit groups just have to raise their hands and say that paying for any or all of the 20 devices and methods approved by government regulators would violate their religious beliefs.
To do so, they must fill out a government document or otherwise notify the government so that their insurers or third-party administrators can take on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. The employer does not have to arrange the coverage or pay for it. Insurers get reimbursed by the government through credits against fees owed under other parts of the health law.
But dozens of colleges, hospitals, charities and other organizations have said in lawsuits they still are being forced to participate in an effort to provide coverage for contraceptives, including some which they claim amount to abortion. The government may impose fines on groups that do not comply.
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