California Supreme Court Upholds State Law Requiring Coverage of Prescription Contraceptives in Some Cases
In a 6-1 ruling, the California Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a state law that requires employers to include contraceptive coverage in health plans that cover other prescription drugs does not discriminate against church-affiliated organizations, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/2). In 2000, Sacramento-based Catholic Charities filed a lawsuit arguing that the law violates religious freedom. However, the 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled in 2001 that the law is intended to end discriminatory health insurance practices that compromised the health and economic well being of women and does not affect religion. The law exempts religious employers opposed to contraception, but only those employers whose primary goal is to promote religious beliefs and who primarily hire and serve like-minded people (California Healthline, 12/2/03). The California Supreme Court ruled that Catholic Charities cannot be exempt from the law because the organization is not a religious employer, provides services to people of various religions and does not directly espouse Roman Catholic doctrine (Elias, AP/Washington Post, 3/2). The ruling applies to Catholic Charities' 1,600 employees statewide and to the 52,000 employees of Catholic hospitals in California (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/2).
Justices in the majority opinion said that Catholic Charities could provide pay increases to its employees to allow them to purchase their own health insurance plans if the group opted not to include coverage of prescription contraceptives in its prescription drug coverage, the Sacramento Bee reports. Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, which represents all 12 state Catholic Charities organizations, said that the group does not want to drop health insurance coverage, adding that the organization might consider self-insurance. Several insurance industry experts said that there may be no way for Catholic Charities to maintain prescription drug coverage without also covering prescription contraceptives (Cooper, Sacramento Bee, 3/2). The case has been seen as a "national test case" that could influence decisions in other states, according to the Los Angeles Times (Dolan, Los Angeles Times, 3/2). The ruling could have implications for similar laws in 20 other states and could influence the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Catholic and Protestant organizations challenging a contraceptive coverage law in New York, according to the New York Times (Strom, New York Times, 3/2).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Monday included an interview with Howard Mintz, legal affairs reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, about the ruling (Block, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/1). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. In addition, NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday reported on the ruling. The segment includes comments from Dolejsi; Margaret Crosby of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, one of the groups that filed legal briefs supporting the state law; Joe Giganti, director of media and government relations for ALL; and Timothy Muscat, deputy attorney general who represented California in the case (Gonzales, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/2). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.