Federal Courts Rife with Health Care Law Challenges

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's health care law isn't out of the legal woods yet.

Six months after surviving the Supreme Court by the slimmest of margins, the law still faces lower-court challenges to its insurance purchasing mandates, tax penalties, Medicare cost controls, minimum- coverage provisions and more.

The cases pose less of a threat to the law than the challenges mounted in the spring by 26 states and business organizations. The justices' 5-4 ruling to uphold the law on narrow grounds indicated festering opposition both inside and outside the court. A return trip to the high court is possible.

The latest indication occurred in November, when the court gave new life to a lawsuit filed by Liberty University in Virginia. The religious institution objected to the employer and individual mandates for purchasing insurance. The university is one of many religious organizations that object to the inclusion of birth control among benefits that must be covered.

About 40 lawsuits are challenging the contraception mandate on religious grounds. The suits were filed primarily by church- affiliated schools and hospitals opposed to abortion.

The Obama administration in February sought to exempt faith- based groups from having to provide the coverage directly, but self- insured employers said they have little choice.

"This is a pressing question that needs to be addressed," said Mathew Staver, dean of the Liberty University School of Law. "It will be a historic clash between the free exercise of religion and a federal law."

Victory on that count could free religious groups that object to covering contraceptives from the law's minimum-coverage requirement. The heart of the law -- expanding affordable health coverage to millions of Americans and requiring most individuals and large employers to buy insurance -- would stand.

Lawsuits that could threaten the entire law haven't advanced as far, however. Experts say they have less chance of reaching the Supreme Court and toppling Obama's signature domestic policy achievement. …