There have been a host of recent cases (and pending ones) involving the Obamacare mandates and religious freedom. This article explains that nonprofit religious employers (churches, for example) can be exempted from Obamacare and/or from the Obamacare penalty/tax if it violates their religious beliefs to be forced to help foot the bill for birth control for other people, and therefore to facilitate and enable birth control, and if paying the penalty instead would be an onerous burden for the group. However, for-profit businesses who have religious beliefs that go against contraception are not exempt so far, although they have mounted court challenges on that issue. Groups such as the nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor—who are “affiliated with religious organizations but not owned or controlled by them”—fall into an in-between gray area.
One of the main legal questions that has yet to be determined in cases involving for-profit group exemptions on religious grounds is whether such groups/corporations are to be considered “persons” for the purposes of Obamacare. However, an actual person (an individual, that is) with religious beliefs that violate the birth control provision of Obamacare is not exempt. Such an individual is ordinarily required to buy contraceptive coverage under Obamacare or pay the penalty/tax for not getting an insurance policy. He or she is not required to use the birth control coverage thus purchased, of course. Nor is he or she required to directly support anyone else using it—although he/she and everyone else is indirectly required to support it by paying into the system that subsidizes others’ use of contraception.
But that does not mean there is no religious exemption from Obamacare for an individual. There is a category of individuals (actual persons, that is, not corporations that some courts might consider to be “persons” under the law) that is exempted for religious reasons from Obamacare and its penalties, according to the IRS. Those persons are members of certain religious groups:
6. What are the statutory exemptions from the requirement to obtain minimum essential coverage?
Religious conscience. You are a member of a religious sect that is recognized as conscientiously opposed to accepting any insurance benefits. The Social Security Administration administers the process for recognizing these sects according to the criteria in the law.
Which religious “sects” would qualify? They would seem to be the Anabaptists: Mennonites, Hutterites and the Amish. Members of those groups are already exempted from the Social Security and Medicare systems, and for them the same exemption would be true of Obamacare on the grounds that the health insurance system as whole is against their religion.
There have long been rumors that the same might be true for Muslims and that they might be exempted from the Obamacare requirements. But because they have not ever been exempted from the Social Security and Medicare systems, it is thought less likely (although within the realm of possibility) that they would be relieved of Obamacare obligations on similar grounds. It would be certainly be interesting to see a court challenge on that point, though.
Another interesting question would be whether an individual Catholic who is against birth control could obtain an exemption from either just the birth control element of coverage or from the Obamacare mandate as a whole, on the grounds of that individual’s religious beliefs. The answer is almost certainly “no,” due to the aforementioned fact that there would be no requirement for such an individual to actually use the birth control coverage, just that he or she buy it, and that as an individual that person is not directly subsidizing the birth control of others.
But why couldn’t the same thing be argued of individual Mennonites about the insurance system as a whole? Why should these individuals not have to buy health insurance coverage like the rest of us, whether they use it or not or object to it or not, or at the very least to pay the tax/penalty if they don’t buy it?
After all, the mandate now goes by the lovely Orwellian name of the “individual shared responsibility provision,” according to the IRS. See, it’s not a mandate at all, nor is it a tax, although the Supreme Court said it was and the IRS is in charge of it. It’s just a “shared responsibility” to make health insurance better, and who wouldn’t want to help with that?
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government, state governments, insurers, employers and individuals are given shared responsibility to reform and improve the availability, quality and affordability of health insurance coverage in the United States. Starting in 2014, the individual shared responsibility provision calls for each individual to have minimum essential health coverage (known as minimum essential coverage) for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return.
The provision applies to individuals of all ages, including children.
Those who believe that the mandate should have been found unconstitutional (and I am one of them; I think the grounds should have been that it is an unequal capitation tax) also believe that no one should be subject to it and no one should have to pay a penalty for not buying it. But even for those who accept the government’s argument that the mandate is both constitutional, and that there is a shared responsibility to provide health insurance for all, it seems to me that there’s an argument to be made that there is no reason to exempt individual members of anti-insurance religions such as the Anabaptists from paying the penalty/tax for opting out of Obamacare coverage, if Catholics and others are not afforded the same privilege. Anabaptists are in more or less the same position as individual anti-birth-control Catholics who are forced to buy coverage or pay the penalty, are they not? In other words, why are the religious beliefs of those who are against insurance as a whole protected, and the beliefs of those who are against segments of Obamacare not protected? At the very least, why shouldn’t the latter be exempted from paying for the birth control portion of their policies?
Lawyers and courts may have an answer for this. No doubt they’ll come up with one, if need be. But I haven’t seen it yet. Any legal takers out there who’d like to enlighten me on what it is?
[NOTE: I'm pretty sure the title of this post should rightly be "for whom", but I didn't want to sound too pedantic.
And I wasn't 100% sure which was correct, anyway. Any really fine grammarians out there who can weigh in on this burning question?]