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Ruling impact on birth-control coverage mixed

JOYCE M. ROSENBERG, AP Business Writer


NEW YORK (AP) — Business owners who don't want to pay for their employees' birth control are ending that coverage after the Supreme Court said they could choose on grounds of religious belief not to comply with part of the health care law.

Some owners are already in touch with their brokers in the wake of Monday's ruling.

Triune Health Group Ltd. wants to know how soon it can change its coverage to stop paying for all contraceptives, said Mary Anne Yep, co-owner of the Oak Brook, Illinois company that provides medical management services.

"We were ready to go when we heard the decision," she said. Triune, which has 80 employees, had filed lawsuits against the U.S. government and the state of Illinois because of requirements that they pay for contraception.

The Supreme Court ruled that some businesses can, because of their religious beliefs, choose not to comply with the health care law's requirement that contraception coverage be provided to workers at no extra charge. The 5-4 ruling has the Obama administration looking for another way to provide birth control for women who work for those companies.

The ruling applies to businesses that are closely held, generally defined as having five or fewer individuals owning more than 50 percent of the company's stock. By some estimates, 90 percent of businesses are closely held and employ about half the nation's labor force of more than 155 million.

While employers are not yet required to provide insurance under the health care law, many closely held companies do, and under the health care law, insurance is required to include contraceptive benefits. However, it's not known how many closely-held companies offer insurance, how many workers they have and how many companies plan to stop paying for contraception.

But it's likely many companies will continue providing coverage for birth control, which would reduce the number of affected workers. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 85 percent of large employers already paid for contraceptives before the health care law required it. Many owners believe it's an important benefit that helps them attract and retain good workers.

Even employers who want to opt out of some forms of birth-control coverage see covering others as important.

"We want to provide for good health care for our people. We just don't want to fund abortive procedures," said Mike Sharrow, owner of C12 Group in San Antonio, with six employees. His company, which provides faith-based counseling for business owners, has always paid for what he calls traditional forms of contraception, such as birth-control pills.

Business owners interviewed by The Associated Press that don't want to pay for contraceptive coverage said their insurers were still trying to figure out how to change their policies. It is possible employees might still be able to get birth-control coverage through their plans, but pay for that portion of their insurance themselves.

The contraceptives at issue in Monday's decision are two known as morning-after pills, the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella; and two intrauterine devices, which are implantable devices inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Many owners objected to them because they believe they may work after conception occurs. However, on Tuesday, the court left in place lower court rulings in other cases that allowed businesses to refuse to pay for all methods of government-approved contraception.

The case decided by the Supreme Court involved two companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. About 50 others also filed suit against the health care law's contraception requirement. Hobby Lobby has more than 15,000 full-time employees while Conestoga has about 950. Hobby Lobby is by far the largest employer among the 50 or so for-profits that sued.

Some of the companies that have sued received court injunctions allowing them not to pay for birth control; the Supreme Court's ruling is expected to allow them to continue that policy.

Weingartz Inc., which has five stores in Michigan selling lawn mowers and other outdoor equipment, stopped paying for all contraception, except when medically needed, since it won an injunction.

"We don't believe anybody else shouldn't have access to it. We just can't pay for it," said Dan Weingartz, the company's president. The company has about 170 employees.

But Joe Holland Chevrolet in South Charleston, West Virginia, and Hastings Automotive Inc. in Hastings, Minnesota, opposed post-conception forms of birth control only, said Matt Bowman, an attorney representing both auto dealerships.

"Our clients have no problems with things that are truly contraceptive," Bowman said.

Christian publisher Tyndale House Publishers Inc., which also filed a lawsuit, expects the Supreme Court ruling to clear the way for it to stop paying for morning-after pills and IUDs.

"We believe that those family businesses should have the religious freedom not to offer abortion-causing items through their employee health care program," Tyndale CEO Mark Taylor said in a statement. The Carol Stream, Illinois, company publishes Christian books.

The businesses contacted by The Associated Press all said their greatest concern was the government forcing them to pay for something that goes against their religious beliefs.

"Framing this as an issue of contraception is wrong. It's a battle against bullying by the government, telling us what to do," said Yep, the Triune Health Group owner.
 

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