A US District judge in Colorado issued a ruling earlier this month which allows an HVAC company – Hercules Industries, owned by a Catholic family – to temporarily avoid having to provide contraceptive services to female employees with no cost sharing. The PPACA requirements for contraceptive care take effect this week, and Hercules Industries would have had to start covering contraceptives on their group health insurance plan as soon as the next plan year started. The PPACA allows religious institutions an exemption from the contraceptive mandate, and also provides a one year “safe harbor” period during which non-profits that don’t meet all of the requirements for an exemption are permitted to delay the introduction of contraceptive coverage. And most of the lawsuits that have been introduced so far with regards to the mandatory contraceptive coverage have been by employers that qualify for the safe harbor and thus don’t have to start offering the coverage until their plan renewal following August 1, 2013.
The lawsuit involving Hercules Industries was unique in that the company is private and for-profit. It’s also unique in that the judge in the case ruled in favor of the company and against the mandate, siding with the idea that compelling the Catholic-owned company to cover contraceptives in their health insurance plan would violate their religious rights. I think we can assume that similar cases will crop up, and that this PPACA provision – much like the individual mandate – will eventually make its way to the Supreme Court, which is never a quick process.
The issue of contraceptive coverage is one that has highlighted the potential problems that arise by having health insurance provided by employers. Other than the fact that we’ve become accustomed to it, does it really make sense to have our health insurance be tied to our employment? Employers don’t have anything to do with our home or auto insurance, or to what schools we send our children. Mortgages, cell phone service, liability umbrella policies – all of these contracts are maintained between individuals and the companies that issue them. What if employers were to get involved in the mortgage business and our home loan were wrapped up with our employment. It’s possible to imagine, but would it make sense? Does it make any more sense to have our employers be so involved in our health insurance?
If health insurance were always strictly a contract between an individual or family and a health insurance carrier or the government, there would never be controversies like this one. As of 2007, there were six million businesses with employees in the US. Obviously not all of them are providing health insurance to their employees, but the majority of American workers do get their health insurance from an employer. And with millions of employers in the country, there’s bound to be a lot of conflicting views regarding healthcare – especially on a topic as controversial as contraceptive coverage. Wouldn’t it make more sense for such a personal issue to be in no way associated with ones employer?