Challenge to health care law premature, feds say
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Attorneys for the Department of Justice filed a motion late Monday asking a federal judge to dismiss Geneva College's challenge to the new health insurance law, saying it is premature.
Even if Geneva College opts not to provide faculty or students with coverage for contraception, sterilization and reproductive capacity, it would not face any enforcement until 2014 at the earliest, according to a brief by Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery and seven other federal lawyers. By then, the law may well be changed to further accommodate concerns of religious institutions, the brief said.
Geneva College "alleges nothing to suggest it will be unable to meet the criteria for the enforcement safe harbor" exempting religious organizations from requirements that compel secular employers to pay for coverage for some reproductive services, the brief said.
"What the administration is trying to do, they want to buy time," said Gregory Baylor, an attorney for the Washington-based Alliance Defense Fund, which is spearheading Geneva's legal challenge. "They don't want courts to address this on the merits because I believe they are nervous about their prospects. 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 in February seeking to nix parts of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, saying that it would not be able to qualify for safe harbor provisions because religion isn't its sole mission.
The Justice Department agreed in its brief that the law requires that most group health plans will cover contraception, sterilization and counseling. But it said that a temporary safe harbor means that the government "will not bring any enforcement action against non-profit 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 change: 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," adding that the college "can't rely upon promises" of future protection for enforcement.
With no imminent threat of enforcement or harm hanging over Geneva College, the court should dismiss its lawsuit, the brief concluded.
The case is before U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti.
First Published May 1, 2012 3:03 pm