Geneva College's health law suit called premature

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Attorneys for the Department of Justice have asked a judge to dismiss Geneva College's lawsuit challenging the 2010 health insurance law -- a move the school's attorney Tuesday characterized as "trying to buy time."

Justice Department attorneys in a Monday brief said Geneva sued too soon.

Even if the college opts not to provide faculty or students with coverage for contraception, sterilization or reproductive counseling -- all of which may be required under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- it would not face any enforcement before 2014, the brief said. By then, the law may be changed to further accommodate concerns of religious institutions, it said.

Gregory Baylor, an attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance Defense Fund, which is spearheading Geneva's legal challenge, said the college "can't rely upon promises" of future protection from enforcement.

Federal attorneys "don't want courts to address this on the merits because I believe they are nervous about their prospects," Mr. Baylor said. "It's going to be difficult for them to convince the courts that this doesn't violate the right of conscience."

The Christian college sued the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies in February, seeking to nix parts of the act. Geneva doesn't want to pay for drugs or counseling that may lead to abortions, but doesn't believe it would qualify for enforcement exemptions because religion isn't its sole mission.

The Justice Department wrote in its brief that the law requires that most group health plans will cover contraception, sterilization and counseling. But it said that for now, the government "will not bring any enforcement action against nonprofit organizations with religious objections ... if they meet certain criteria."

It also noted that a process to craft permanent amendments to the act is under way. One possible outcome: Religious organizations may be able to provide policies that don't include reproductive coverage, with the condition that their insurance provider "offer contraceptive coverage directly to ... plan participants at no extra charge," the brief said.

Mr. Baylor called that proposal "an accounting sham."

The case is before U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti.

education - region

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. First Published May 2, 2012 12:00 AM


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