Kelly tangles with deputy AG on Hobby Lobby litigation

An overview of Affordable Care Act litigation by a Kansas deputy attorney general Wednesday spiraled into an exchange about objections by some corporations to a federal requirement that contraception coverage be included in health plans offered to employees.

The U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear oral argument March 25 on a case — the consolidated Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood vs. Sebelius — stemming from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requirement under Obamacare that businesses include birth control benefits in employee health insurance.

Both companies filed suit based on claims compliance would violate religious beliefs, naming HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor, as defendant.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, posed a question to deputy attorney general Jeff Chanay, who was delivering the briefing on ACA lawsuits to members of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. She asked whether Chanay took into account in his research that 90 percent of products sold by the arts and crafts discount chain were imported from China, which has employed a forced abortion rule on citizens.

“So you have a company that doesn’t want to provide birth control to their employees, but had no trouble cutting deals with a country that forces abortion?” Kelly said.

Chanay said the litigation update for the Senate committee wasn’t designed to chronicle all facets of the contraception debate.

“We were engaging on the legal issue itself,” he said. “We weren’t looking particularly at Hobby Lobby itself or how it does business.”

Hobby Lobby’s mission statement reflects faith of the company’s founder. It says, “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

Chanay said the attorney general’s office explored broader questions of whether a for-profit corporation had the authority under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to take this type of stand against contraception.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican and chairwoman of the Senate health committee, said the line of questioning by Kelly was a “red herring.”

“I’m not going to debate a particular company,” said Pilcher-Cook, an opponent of the ACA. “What’s important is the principle at stake. We’re talking about freedom of speech. We’re talking about things that we’ve held very precious in our life.”

She said state legislators and the public should concentrate on legal and policy movement tied to the 2010 federal health insurance law.

“Especially with all the damage the federal health care law is doing right now to not only our health care, but our economy,” Pilcher-Cook said. “We’ve got to stay focused on that.”

Chanay delved into five separate types of cases weaving through the court system in response to implementation of Obamacare.

“The ACA created a complex scheme of new government regulations, mandates subsidies and agencies in an effort to achieve universal health care coverage,” he said. “Immediately, a majority of the states around the country and some business groups challenged various parts of the law.”

This story was originally published by The Topeka Capital-Journal on March 5, 2014. 


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