Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor opens new front on health law

  • Article by: Sandhya Somashekhar, Robert Barnes and Michelle Boorstein
  • Washington Post
  • January 1, 2014 - 9:53 PM

– The Obama administration faced a fresh challenge to its health care law just as many of its key provisions took effect Wednesday, after an 11th-hour Supreme Court ruling temporarily allowed some Catholic groups not to cover birth control in their employee health plans.

The decision came on the eve of what administration officials described as a landmark moment, as new health insurance policies began for about 6 million Americans who were set to receive coverage under the law. Hospitals nationwide reported a relatively quiet day, without any surge of newly insured people filling emergency rooms with pressing medical needs. The White House reported no problems.

Wednesday also marked the start of some of the law’s most popular provisions, such as one that prevents insurance companies from rejecting people who have pre-existing conditions.

But those developments were overshadowed by the latest twist in the controversy over the contraception mandate. The provision requires that most employers provide health plans that cover an array of medications and procedures — including the birth control pill, the morning-after pill and permanent measures such as tubal ligation — without a copay.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor late Tuesday opened a second front in Supreme Court challenges to the provision. The initial front opened in November, when the justices agreed to hear a pair of cases from for-profit companies challenging that provision. Now Sotomayor has ordered the Obama administration to file a brief by Friday responding to a different kind of challenge, this one from groups affiliated with religious organizations.

In the meantime, she issued a temporary injunction barring the administration from enforcing the birth control requirement against an order of Colorado nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor. The ruling also applied to more than 200 other faith-based groups that use insurance offered by the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, which adheres to Catholic principles. Most nonprofit groups that challenged the mandate had received temporary reprieves.

The New York Times contributed to this report.

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