CHARLESTON – Thirteen state attorneys general, including West Virginia’s, have asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to adopt broader religious exemptions to an insurance mandate within Obamacare.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced March 27 that he joined a dozen colleagues in a letter sent to DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The letter addresses proposed amendments to the Affordable Care Act.

More than 50 lawsuits have been filed over a mandate by HHS that required employers and insurance companies to provide coverage for all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures, Morrisey said.

Amendments proposed would allow an accommodation for certain nonprofit religious organizations to avoid paying directly for contraceptive coverage, Morrisey said, but lack a solution for for-profit business owners who object on religious or conscience grounds.

“We believe the proposed regulations do not remedy the legal infirmities in the original HHS mandate,” the letter says.

“As you know, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act… requires the federal government to use the least restrictive means to accomplish a compelling government interest. RFRA cuts across all federal regulations and requires ‘strict scrutiny’ of all actions of the federal government that burden the exercise of religion.”

Each attorney general who signed the letter is a Republican. They are Alabama’s Luther Strange, Nebraska’s Jon Bruning, Colorado’s John Suthers, Ohio’s Mike DeWine, Florida’s Pam Bondi, Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt, Georgia’s Sam Olens, South Carolina’s Alan Wilson, Idaho’s Lawrence Wasden, Texas’ Greg Abbott, Kansas’ Derek Schmidt and Montana’s Tim Fox.

They claim there are three problems with the proposed amendments.

First, they say there is no reason to extend to all religious-affiliated nonprofits the exception that is available to houses of worship. That exception allows an absolute exception for some religious nonprofits but denies it to other groups, the AGs claim.

Second, the accommodation to allow some nonprofits to shift costs onto insurance companies “appears to be a shell game that does not alleviate the burden on the exercise of religion.”

The AGs say insurance companies don’t provide anything for free and that it will increase premiums.

Third, for-profit business owners who protest to the coverage on conscience grounds must be granted an exception.

“If you are correct that insurance companies will actually benefit by providing insurance coverage for free (which seems highly doubtful as explained above), then there is no compelling reason for you to limit this purported accommodation to nonprofits,” the letter says.

“Under your logic, insurers would benefit even more if insurance companies were required to provide insurance coverage for these services for free to the employees of all businesses, including the employees of for-profit businesses whose owners object to the HHS mandate.”

The AGs concluded that they fear the amendments will conflict with legal protections for religious liberty and the right of conscience.

“HHS’s proposed amendments fail to address the deep faith-based concerns that many organizations and businesses have with the government demanding that they pay for certain types of health care services,” Morrisey said.

“The proposed amendments violate the religious freedoms on which this country was built because they allow houses of worship to be exempt from a mandate, but they do not apply the same principle to nonprofit or for-profit companies with faith-based objections.”

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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