Obamacare can’t require coverage for some HIV drugs, federal judge rules

A federal judge in Texas ruled Wednesday that the Affordable Care Act cannot require a Christian-owned business to cover HIV drugs for its employees because it violates the owners’ religious freedom.

In his 42-page ruling, US District Judge Reed O’Connor said the requirement to compel the company to comply with the injunction or pay a fine “imposes a substantial burden on religious freedom.” It also declared unconstitutional the government’s system for deciding which preventive care services should be covered by the health care law, a decision that could jeopardize a wide range of free services, including cancer and disease screenings. heart conditions, for millions of Americans.

The ruling is the latest in a series of challenges to the health law. O’Connor himself ruled the entire law unconstitutional in late 2018, a decision that did not stand after the Supreme Court upheld the law 7-2 last year, the third time the body had considered such a challenge.

The challenge this time focused on several issues, including whether requiring certain preventive services violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress in 1993, as well as the authority of the government’s Preventive Services Task Force to determine which services preventive measures must be covered by employers.

Steve Hotze, one of the plaintiffs and owner of the Christian for-profit corporation Braidwood Management Inc., objected to providing coverage for HIV prevention drugs called PrEP, saying they “facilitate and encourage homosexual behavior and sexual activity.” sexual intercourse outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

The ruling followed up on the 2014 ruling hobby lobby case, in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a company cannot be required to provide its employees with contraceptive coverage, a mandate the company said would make it complicit in what it considered sinful behavior.

PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2012 and recommended in 2019 by the US Preventive Services Task Force.

O’Connor’s ruling was met with swift opposition from consumer advocacy groups and many Democrats, who said they hoped it would be appealed.

A Biden administration official said the decision was under review. Since the judge did not issue an injunction establishing the scope of his decision, “it is too early to really know what this means,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.

Consumer organization Protect Our Care said the ruling “threatens the Affordable Care Act’s preventive services requirement that guarantees free access to more than 100 preventive health services, including health screenings, routine immunizations , well-baby and child visits, prenatal care, contraception and more.” services used by 150 million Americans, according to the group.

“In a legally sane world, this would be quickly overturned, but that’s not the world we live in,” said Ira Lupu, a professor emeritus at the George Washington University School of Law who has specialized in the study of liberty. religious.

Lupu said the new ruling expanded the authority of the high court hobby lobby decision.

“It’s not the drug that’s sinful,” he said. “They are saying that many of the people who will want to use this drug will have committed a sin.”

Lupu said the ruling builds on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, enacted in response to an earlier Supreme Court ruling that was seen as hostile to religion. The 1990 case ruled against a group of Native Americans who wanted to use peyote in their services. The court ruled that the law against the use of peyote applied to everyone, religious groups and non-religious groups alike.

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