The Supreme Court in a unanimous opinion remanded Zubik v. Burwell — and the six cases consolidated with Zubik — back to the Courts of Appeals to rule on the contraceptive opt-out notice provisions. The Court directed the lower courts to consider the new information presented in the parties’ post-oral argument briefs ordered by the Court on March 29. The petitioners in each of these cases are religiously-affiliated nonprofit organizations which are challenging the requirement that notice be given to the government of religious objections to providing no-cost contraceptive coverage under employee health insurance plans, as required by the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and its regulations.
In the ruling, the Court stated that the parties had agreed in their briefs to a regulatory compromise solution originally suggested by the Court in its March 29 order. The high court’s workaround would permit an objecting religious nonprofit employer to contract with their insurance provider for a health insurance plan that excludes contraceptives. The insurer, in turn, would provide the contraceptive coverage directly to the nonprofit organization’s employees, with no further action or notice required from the organization.
The Court further provided that until the lower courts rule on the cases, the government could consider the petitioners as having provided adequate notice of their religious objection, and could proceed to provide contraceptive coverage at no cost to the nonprofit’s employees through their insurance provider in accordance with the ACA and its regulations. The Court’s ruling also stayed the imposition of any fines the petitioners might face for failing to comply with the notice requirements.
Additionally, pending the lower court rulings, the government can continue to act on notices of religious objection provided by other religious nonprofits, by providing no-cost contraceptive coverage through the nonprofits’ insurance providers in accordance with the ACA regulations.
For religious nonprofits who object to providing contraceptive coverage to their employees, but who are not among the petitioners or among the petitioners in 13 similar cases that the high court has not yet agreed to hear, the likely best approach at this point would be to provide appropriate notice of religious objection to the government in accordance with current ACA regulations. The risk, however, of incurring penalties as a result of noncompliance may not be great, given that the high court appears to be championing a compromise solution.