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Jerseyans react after Supreme Court sides with Hobby Lobby in ACA case, saying private businesses do not have to offer contraception services

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In a ruling that will again change the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with Hobby Lobby in a narrow, 5-4 decision that ruled a privately held business does not have to cover contraception services in its employee health care plan.

The decision overrules part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act that requires health plans to cover numerous types of contraception.

With the decision, the court has ruled the federal government cannot require closely held family businesses to provide health coverage that they feel goes against their religious beliefs.

Hobby Lobby is an Oklahoma City-based hobby and games retailer with more than 500 stores nationwide, including three in New Jersey.

The case did not specifically deal with birth control pills; Hobby Lobby argued that it objects to the morning after pill and intrauterine devices, which prevent a fetus from implanting in the uterus.  Hobby Lobby had argued that these methods cause abortions by blocking the fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America spokeswoman Justine Sessions says the decision "opens the door for other corporations to be able to opt out of providing any form of birth control."

In her dissenting opinion Justice Ruth Ginsburg wrote that other companies may object to all contraception, and that Monday’s decision would seem to allow them to opt out of any contraception coverage.

How great an impact this ruling will have remains to be seen.

Christine Stearns, vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said, "It is too soon to say how New Jersey ‎will react to this decision. At this point, the employer community is studying the ruling to assess it's effect on health care coverage.  The Supreme Court seems to have narrowly tailored their ruling  and it would seem unlikely to have a broad impact."

Justice Samuel Alito, a New Jersey native, wrote the majority opinion in the case, saying the mandate to provide contraception is "unlawful" in its current form.

And while the court stressed that its ruling applies only to corporations that are under the control of just a few people, John Sarno, an employment lawyer and president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, said it could have a big overall impact in the state.

RELATED: Vitale, the Senate Health Committee chair, dismayed by ruling: “There is a greater public health need here”

“(The ruling) will make it much more difficult to require health care plans to offer contraception on a mandatory basis,” he said.

Sarno said New Jersey health insurance law requires insurers to cover contraception.

“We have a New Jersey mandate that requires health insurance plans in New Jersey to provide contraception,” he said. “Certainly the state law is now of questionable validity.”

Sarno said the state’s contraception mandate could now be tested, based on the Supreme Court decision, but said he is not aware of any plans in New Jersey to challenge the state’s contraception mandate.

“The New Jersey mandate, if someone should test it, will be the same issue,” he said.

RELATED: Hobby Lobby ruling reveals bigger issue of Affordable Care Act implementation, says expert

In 2005 the state legislature mandated that health insurers cover contraception, according to Marshall McKnight, spokesman for the state Department of Banking and Insurance. Contraception is one of a number of state mandated health insurance benefits.

McKnight explained that state mandates only apply to health insurance plans, but not to self-funded health plans where the employer is responsible for paying the medical claims.

Members of the state legislature had differing views on the issue.

State Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D-Woodbridge), the chair of the Senate Health Committee, was dismayed by the ruling.

"There is a greater public health need here," he said. "Not all contraception is used for birth control, it is also used for other medical problem that women have."

Congressman Leonard Lance (R-Flemington) applauded the decision.

He called the ACA "a dramatic overreach into the personal freedoms and liberties that millions of Americans hold dear.  Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision is a welcome victory for religious freedom and I am pleased that the Court has protected this right."

The court's ruling got a mixed reception from health care policy advocates.

Linda Schwimmer, the vice president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, fears the ruling will have a broad-based impact.

“The court’s decision has significant implications for health care, and for the employees of non-public corporations,” she said. “From a public health perspective, access to adequate contraceptives is important, and this decision would seem to exempt a whole class of employers from having to abide by the contraceptive mandate in the ACA. To that extent, this decision is challenging.”

The Citizens' Council for Health Freedom called the decision "a step in the right direction for freedom in America. Obamacare has essentially trampled over the freedoms of all Americans, including those who want to be free from government health care altogether."

The national women's advocacy organization UltraViolet called the decision, "an outrageous precedent, putting women's health at risk. Birth control is a popular and medically necessary part of women's health care."

It is unclear how many companies will now stop offering contraception services. Some court watchers feel the decision will not be far-reaching.

The heavily respected SCOTUS blog said the ruling will be limited in scope: “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to mean that all insurance mandates, that is for blood transfusions or vaccinations, necessarily fail if they conflict with an employer's religious beliefs.”

Groups that lobby for reproductive rights contend the drugs and devices prevent fertilization from occurring, and thus reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in surgical abortions.

NJBIZ will update this story throughout the day as more reaction comes in.

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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Comments


Liz H said:
Does this mean a business owner who is a Jehovah's Witness adherent can exclude medical coverage for blood transfusions from his employees medical plans? Or, may a Christian Scientist business owner drop medical coverage altogether because he believes in faith healing instead? This is a ridiculous ruling by our highest court.

June 30, 2014 4:49 pm

mrdirt said:
WAYS TO SAVE ON YOUR BIRTH CONTROL WITHOUT TAXPAYERS FOOTING THE BILL.
For example, the price of Ortho Tri-Cyclen is $41.99 on the Walgreens website, but its generic equivalents, TriNessa and Sprintec, cost only $27.99—nearly 30 percent less.

“Generic drugs have the same makeup as brand-name drugs,” says Nancy Cossler, M.D., an ob-gyn at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. “They’re all the same, so there’s no reason not to go generic.”

Be Straight with Your Doctor
Talk to your doc about your financial constraints. She’ll make sure to prescribe you a pill that has a generic version or talk to you about other cost-effective methods. Also, your doctor might have free samples available, but be warned: According to Cossler, drug companies only manufacture samples of brand-name pills like Yaz to fool you into getting a prescription for the expensive stuff once you do sign on. Make sure that when your doctor writes you a script, it’s for the generic version.

Bargain Shop
You scour supermarkets for the cheapest shampoo and the best deal on laundry detergent, so why shouldn’t you look for a bargain when filling your prescription? Call around and research your pill online to price your drug at the big pharmacies. Bonus: Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, and most of the others have prescription savings clubs. You can get a 90-day supply of the drug for $12 on some of the plans.

“There could be a very large variation in that cost, especially if you’re not on insurance. The variation can be as much as $100 a month from pharmacy to pharmacy,” says Scott Chudnoff, M.D., a gynecologist at Montefiore Centennial Women’s Center in the Bronx, New York.

Stick with Condoms
If you’re really pinching pennies, talk to your doctor about going off the Pill and protecting yourself with condoms. “If you’re not in a serious relationship and you’re going to have sex fewer than 10 times a month, it might be cheapest to go with condoms,” says Chudnoff.

June 30, 2014 3:54 pm



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