News Law and Policy

Federal Court Temporarily Blocks Missouri Law Excluding Insurance Coverage for Birth Control

Jessica Mason Pieklo

As states pass their own laws allowing employers to discriminate in insurance benefits, federal courts must wrestle with how those laws interact with the federal contraception mandate.

In the wake of the legislative battle over contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act, conservative lawmakers in states like Missouri passed state laws that require insurers to exclude birth control coverage for those who object on moral or religious grounds. And much like the federal birth control benefit, these state laws face a host of legal challenges as well that could produce a host of conflicting results.

The Missouri law requires insurers to issue policies that do not provide for contraception coverage if such coverage runs contrary to the religious or moral beliefs of an individual or employer. The law was seen as a direct rebuttal to the contraception mandate and passed after a contentious legislative battle that included a veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon followed by a veto-override vote by the Republican-led legislature. But thanks to a federal court in Missouri, the law may never be enforced.

That’s because a federal judge has blocked the measure because it conflicts with the federal mandate. U.S. District Judge Audry Fleissig held that there “appears to be an irreconcilable conflict” between the state and federal laws and that puts insurance companies in an untenable position. If they try to comply with Missouri’s law, insurers could be subject to federal penalties for not abiding by the contraception mandate. Yet insurers also face financial penalties from the state insurance department for failing to follow the Missouri law which means they cannot comply with both statutes at the same time. Because the U.S. Constitution gives preference to federal laws over state laws, Judge Fleissig temporarily enjoined the Missouri law.

The challenge to the law was brought by the Missouri Insurance Coalition, which represents the insurance industry. The court said the state insurance department already had issued a cease and desist order against at least one of the insurers in the coalition, alleging it was “engaging in fraud” by violating Missouri’s contraception-exemption law. This temporary injunction halts any further action by the state until the merits of the challenge have been decided by the court at a later time.

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