(CN) - A Catholic-owned company that cannot find insurance excluding contraceptive coverage for its employees may find no remedy in court, the 8th Circuit ruled.
Stuart Lind, the owner of Annex Medical in Minnesota, opposes the use of contraceptives on religious grounds. He also objects to paying for contraceptive coverage for his 16 full-time and two part-time employees under the company's group health insurance plan.
The employee health plan had included such coverage for years, but Lind claims he did not know about it.
Upon discovering the issue, Lind claims he has tried, but been unable to find a Minnesota insurer willing to sell Annex a plan without contraceptive coverage.
Before the Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby, overturning the contraceptive mandate in President Obama's health-care reform law, a federal judge refused to give Lind and Annex a preliminary injunction against the mandate's enforcement.
Hobby Lobby stopped the government from forcing closely held companies owned by individuals with religious objections to contraception to paying for their employees' contraceptive coverage.
While that holding supports Lind's position, however, a three-judge panel with the 8th Circuit found Monday that his company is not actually large enough to be subject to the mandate.
"Annex has fewer than fifty full-time employees, which means Annex has no government-imposed obligation to offer health insurance of any kind - let alone the contraceptive coverage to which Lind objects," Judge William Riley wrote for the court in St. Louis. "Only if Annex voluntarily chooses to offer insurance without the mandated contraceptive coverage, and this lack of contraceptive coverage is not 'solely because of the health insurance coverage offered by such issuer,' will Annex be exposed to tax penalties."
As such Annex may lack standing altogether to pursue its claims against the government defendants.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, "does not allow the federal government substantially to burden Lind's religious beliefs, as exercised through his closely-held corporation," Riley wrote. "But in protecting Lind's exercise of religion, RFRA cannot injure the rights of other private parties. Whether for political, moral, religious, administrative, or purely profit-driven reasons, health insurance issuers are free under RFRA to decline Annex's business."
While Annex won an injunction Monday, the lower court must determine standing on remand, according to the ruling.
Judge Steven Colloton concurred with the majority, but wrote separately to express his opinion that Annex has stated a valid claim, and has standing to pursue it.
"Annex Medical alleged that its inability to procure the desired group health insurance plan is 'a result of' the HHS mandate, and that the mandate 'strips Annex Medical of any choice' to select its preferred plan," Colloton said. "The majority's speculation that every insurance company - despite the cost-neutrality of the requested accommodation - might refuse to issue a policy to Annex Medical for 'political, moral, religious, administrative, or purely profit-driven reasons' is contrary to the allegations in the complaint and cannot defeat Annex Medical's standing to challenge the HHS mandate." (Emphasis in original.)
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