The mandate that most employers offer insurance coverage to their workers, even if they morally oppose some of the plan offerings, is at the heart of a revived constitutional challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Attorneys say that although a ruling in the case would not strike down the law, it could potentially have wide ramifications for how the government compels employers to offer healthcare coverage for workers.
A five-member majority of the U.S. Supreme Court famously upheld the constitutionality of the law's requirement that virtually every American who is not in prison obtain health insurance. Less talked about in the June 28 decision was the court's ruling that it had jurisdiction to consider challenges to the individual insurance mandate even though penalties had not yet been imposed on anyone for violating it. Nine months earlier, in September 2011, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., had reached a different conclusion, tossing out Liberty University v. Timothy Geithner on the grounds that the plaintiffs had not yet been harmed.
The justices last week ordered the 4th Circuit to reinstate the Liberty case to consider two questions not resolved last June by the Supreme Court: Can the federal government force businesses with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance to workers? And can the government dictate that insurance cover services, such as abortion, to which businesses oppose on religious grounds?
Liberty University—the Christian college founded in Lynchburg, Va., by evangelist Jerry Falwell Sr.—and a group of individual plaintiffs say the requirement violates their constitutional rights to equal protection under the law and the freedom to exercise religious beliefs unfettered by the federal government.
The Obama administration did not oppose the hearing but believes the challenge is without merit.