Obamacare punt by high court gives hope to both sides

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/05/19/obamacare-punt-by-high-court-gives-hope-to-both-sides/

WASHINGTON – Both Republicans and Democrats support a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to send back to appeals courts cases challenging Obamacare mandates that require coverage of contraception based on religious grounds, asking the panels to try to find compromise solutions to the disputes.

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast Tuesday, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan praised Monday’s unanimous decision by the high court. The ruling absolved employers like the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity group, from facing fines for failing to meet the mandates of the Affordable Care Act while the cases are pending.

But Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said the Obama administration has displayed a “total misunderstanding of faith” in demanding that religious nonprofits must provide coverage for birth control and abortions, even when that contravenes their religious beliefs.

“Living out our faith gives us joy,” Ryan said. “That is why we object when government restricts religious liberty. When faith is ruled out of bounds, then happiness itself is being placed out of reach.”

He suggested that the Little Sisters, a group of nuns which provides nursing home care in dozens of U.S. cities, including Somerville, took admirable action to push for its rights as a religious organization.

“I think we can all agree that they are doing some of the most noble work out there,” Ryan explained, to applause from the audience. “Yet, the administration has been trying to force them to offer benefits that violate their beliefs. The sisters have tried to negotiate with this administration, and frankly, its response has shown a total misunderstanding of faith.”

However, in an exclusive interview with Buzzfeed.com following the decision, President Barack Obama cited the decision as a win for religious freedom and for women. Women can still obtain contraception while the religious plans are protected by the court from penalties for not complying with the mandate, he said.

“The practical effect is right now, that women will still continue to be able to get contraception, if they are getting health insurance,” he said. “And we are properly accommodating religious institutions who have objections to contraception.”

Some, like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based advocacy group that represented the Little Sisters, put a positive interpretation on Obama’s words.

“I wish HHS had reached the same conclusion five years ago that President Obama did yesterday,” Mark Rienzi, a Becket lawyer, said, referring to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. “But the president’s acknowledgment that any woman who wants free contraception can already get it ‘right now’ – while the Little Sisters are under court protection against a forced takeover of their health plan – should effectively end this debate over whether the HHS mandate was necessary to providing women access to these services.”

The government exempts 1-in-3 Americans from the Obamacare mandate, according to Becket. Also exempted are large corporations such as Exxon, Visa as well as the government’s own military family health plan.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.