Notre Dame's Affordable Care Act Complication

By Ed Cohen | Spring 2013

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For Notre Dame, complying with the Affordable Care Act has involved more than deciding whether to continue to offer employees health coverage (it will) or pay a penalty. There’s a religious dimension.

At issue is how a Catholic university deals with the law’s requirement that all insurance plans cover the cost of birth control, which the Catholic Church opposes.

According to a report by the Thomson Reuters news service, the Affordable Care Act exempted religious organizations including churches from the requirement, but not religiously affiliated employers such as hospitals and schools. A regulation issued by the Obama administration last August requires employers to provide free birth control as a benefit of their health-care plans. The requirement would cover birth-control pills and devices, vasectomies, sterilization, contraceptives, even the so-called morning-after pill, none of which have been part of Notre Dame employee coverage in the past.

In 2012 Notre Dame joined with other religiously affiliated institutions in suing the Department of Health and Human Services. The plaintiffs argued that the requirement violated constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. In January, a federal judge dismissed the University’s suit, saying it was premature because the government has pledged to develop new rules to address the religious freedom controversy.

The government subsequently published proposed approaches to try to resolve the controversy. At press time, the public comment period on those proposals was still open, and there was no final rule.