New Semester Gives Life Back to Obamacare Fight

     (CN) – A federal judge agreed to revisit opposition Obamacare faces from a Christian college because the school is figuring out student health insurance plans for the fall.
     Geneva College, a Christian liberal arts college set in Beaver Falls, Pa., sued the Obama administration and demanded an injunction to the women’s preventive health care regulations of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
     Seneca Hardwood Lumber Co., of Cranberry, Pa., and two of its owners, Wayne Hepler and Carrie Kolesar, joined the lawsuit in June 2012. Hepler also sued on behalf of his sawmill, WLH Enterprises.
     The plaintiffs said their sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit them from intentionally participating in, paying for, facilitating or otherwise supporting the use of abortifacient drugs, contraception, sterilization, and related education and counseling through their company’s health insurance plan.
     Months before the suit had been filed, however, President Barack Obama had promised that his administration would consider an accommodation whereby some insurance companies could provide the services directly to women who seek them, “with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception.”
     Though U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti granted the lumber-related plaintiffs an injunction last month, she found Geneva’s claims unripe based on the uncertainty of the administrative rules process and the government’s claim that the final rules implementing the mandate would never be enforced against entities like Geneva.
     Geneva moved for reconsideration, arguing that it must now negotiate the terms of its 2013-14 student health insurance plan, which begins on Aug. 1.
     The college claimed that “there is a significant probability that [it] will simply cease facilitating health insurance coverage for its students … given the moral and religious unacceptability of the ‘accommodation’ set forth in the [proposed rules].”
     Conti agreed last week that these developments warrant reconsideration of the case.
     “Geneva’s ability to negotiate is fundamentally impacted by the final rules and the proposed rules, none of which alleviate its religious objections to the mandate,” Conti wrote. “Geneva cannot, therefore, simply carry on as though nothing will happen. Geneva must make a determination now based upon defendants’ mandate as it stands, which remains at odds with Geneva’s belief system in spite of the proposed rules. Geneva raises objections to both the compromise from February 2012 and the proposed rules from February 2013. Given the existing final regulations and the similarity in the proposals, the threat of harm faced by Geneva is presently ‘real and immediate.'”
     The judge later added: “Because defendants failed to build sufficient lead time into their rulemaking for entities like Geneva whose plan years begin on Aug. 1, 2013, Geneva is now making critical decisions about its student health plan and will continue to suffer real hardship absent a court ruling.”
     Conti nevertheless found that the some of the school’s claims cannot advance.
     She dismissed Geneva’s claims under the establishment clause and free-speech clause, as well as its due-process claim under the Fifth Amendment. The school also cannot challenge Obamacare under as arbitrary and capricious or contrary to law under the Administrative Procedure Act.
     Conti refused, however, to dismiss its claim under Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the free-exercise clause, and the notice-and-comment claim under the Administrative Procedure Act.

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