Massachusetts Loses Contraceptive Coverage Fight

Employee Benefits News examines legal developments that impact the employee benefits and executive compensation employers provide, including federal and state legislation, rules from federal...

By Carmen Castro-Pagan

The state of Massachusetts lost its attempt to stop the Trump administration’s new birth control mandate rules that would allow more employers to opt out of providing contraceptive insurance coverage based on their religious or moral beliefs.

The state failed to set forth specific facts establishing that it will likely suffer future injury from the administration’s conduct, Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts held March 12.

The decision is the first victory—although not on its merits—for the administration in a series of disputes over the validity of two rules that would expand the religious exemption to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Other states, including Washington, Pennsylvania, and California, have also filed lawsuits challenging the rules. Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, and New York joined California in its challenge.

So far, federal judges in Pennsylvania and California have issued orders stopping the rules from taking effect nationwide. Those two cases are pending appeal.

In his ruling, Gorton took issue with Massachusetts’ failure to show how its finances would be injured by the expanded exemptions, or how the health and well-being of its citizens would be adversely affected by the rules.

Massachusetts didn’t identify any particular woman who is likely to lose contraceptive coverage because of the rules, Gorton said. It didn’t identify any state employer that is likely to avail itself of the expanded exemptions, he added.

Gorton pointed to the cases brought by Pennsylvania and California, saying there was no doubt that employers in those states intended to use the exemption—which is a prerequisite to a state incurring an injury to its finances or to the health and well-being of its residents. In contrast, the “record is uniquely obscure” as to whether any Massachusetts employers intend to use the expanded exemptions, he said.

Massachusetts doesn’t identify any employers that are likely to avail themselves of the expanded exemptions, much less identify who will cause the state the alleged significant financial harm, the judge said.

Massachusetts’ Office of the Attorney General represents the state. The U.S. Department of Justice represents the federal agencies.

The case is Massachusetts v. HHS, 2018 BL 83693, D. Mass., No. 1:17-cv-11930-NMG, order denying plaintff’s motion for summary judgment 3/12/18.

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