The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers Americans new opportunities to find and purchase health care insurance. Employers with 50 or more full time employees (and full-time equivalents) are required to offer health insurance to their employees. However, some non-governmental entities object to providing contraceptive care through employee benefit plans on religious or moral grounds. New rules recently released by the Department of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (“HHS”), and the Department of Treasury (“Treasury”) address the issue of religious and moral objections to certain provisions of the ACA.

Objections to Certain ACA Provisions

Employers or individuals choose health insurance plans from the Health Insurance Marketplace. Those plans are required to cover the cost of birth control, as well as counseling for all women. Problems occur when a faith-based employer feels the contraceptive mandate goes against their religious beliefs. In addition, employers may object based on sincere moral convictions against contraceptives.

The Solution: Religious Exemptions and Accommodations

The DOL, HHS, Treasury and other government agencies published interim final rules on October 13, 2017. After review of solicited comments, the final rule were released on October 6, 2018 (the “Final Rule”). Under the Final Rule, certain groups are spared from providing contraceptive preventive services under the ACA. Specifically, the rules apply to the following objecting entities:

churches, church auxiliaries, church associations, religious orders, non-governmental employers, nonprofits, for-profits, non-governmental institutions of higher education, insurers, and individuals with objections based on sincere religious beliefs.

An association health plan may be exempt if members of the association have strong religious beliefs about contraception. Even student health plans offered at institutions of higher education may be eligible for the rule’s exemption. The application for exemption is available at: Healthcare.gov.

An optional accommodations process is available for exempt entities. An otherwise exempt employer or individual may offer contraceptive care if it wishes.