Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

July 11, 2014

Local residents divided on SCOTUS decision

TAHLEQUAH — Nearly two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of allowing for-profit, closely-held companies to opt out of the contraceptive mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act.

Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based, family-owned company, brought the suit, saying offering certain forms of contraception to its employees through the company’s insurance plan runs counter to the owners’ religious beliefs.

Justices voting in favor included John Roberts, Anthony Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. Those dissenting the ruling included Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer.

Long before the ruling came down on Monday, June 30, citizens across the country have voiced strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted April 28 through June 20, 40 percent of poll participants strongly disagreed, and 13 percent somewhat disagreed with the idea that employers should be able to choose what forms of contraceptives their health plans provide based on religious beliefs. It found that 20 percent strongly agreed and 15 percent somewhat agreed with the idea. The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 1.1 percentage point.

Conversely, a Rasmussen Reports telephone survey conducted following the ruling found that 47 percent say companies should not be required to meet the contraceptive mandate, while 43 percent say businesses should be required to provide health insurance that covers all government-approved contraceptives for women without co-payments or other charges to the patient.

Many believe the impact of the decision will have far-reaching effects on businesses and employees alike, including Robert Tuttle, Berz Research Professor of Law and Religion at George Washington University. Tuttle is also a consultant for Pew Research Center.

In an interview with Pew, Tuttle indicated that once the contraceptive mandate issues are resolved in court, a second wave of disputes may follow.

“The next wave of disputes is likely to involve employers who object on religious ground to paying benefits to same-sex spouses of employees,” Tuttle told Pew Research Center.

“Unlike with the contraceptive mandate, however, these businesses may have a tougher time prevailing. First, a different majority of the court may well determine that discrimination against employees imposes a different and more serious cost on them than the denial of coverage. In addition, the court may look differently on these claims, since the government has no readily available alternative to providing same-sex spouses with the benefits denied by the employer.”

The Daily Press asked its Facebook friends to weigh in the decision, and a lively discussion ensued.

Local business owners Shannon Grimes and Josh Hutchins believe employers should not be required by the government to provide health insurance to employees.

“They can if they want, [but there are] no tax benefits to doing so,” said Hutchins. “But they shouldn’t have to. And people without insurance can take the money their employer would have paid for their insurance and obtain their own insurance if they so desire. Maybe people can even form pools of insurance customers to get discounts. Also, there are health providers who do not accept insurance payments. Their rates on treatments are much less expensive than those that do.”

Grimes said he believes the government should not be involved in the issue.

“I think the bigger problem is that things have been twisted up so much that a question like this can even come before the court,” said Grimes. “Why is the government involved in telling companies what should be included in compensation packages, insurance or otherwise? This would be a non-issue if the government was not meddling where it need not be. This is an unnecessary problemthat is the fruit of government interventions in the market.”

John Yeutter, a local CPA, believes the court is ignoring economic principles.

“I think that they miss a fundamental principle of economics: money is fungible. Somehow, the Green family [Hobby Lobby owners], and five old men, are convinced that if they pay money to an insurance company, and their employees can use what is bought with those funds for an abortion that will violate their religious beliefs, but if they give the money to the employee directly, and the employee uses the money to buy an abortion, that’s not violating their beliefs. Once money leaves an employer’s hands, whether to the employee or to an employee’s agent, like an insurance company, the employer is not responsible for its use.”

At first glance, Krista Sparks did not agree with the decision, and said she was offended the subject was even being disputed.

“After further research and understanding, I now realize it is OK,” said Sparks. “Contraception is still available through health local health departments and Obamacare. Even if you have Hobby Lobby insurance and need contraception, you can still access it through your local health department. Contraceptives go against the owner(s) of Hobby Lobby’s personal religion and belief. They have every right to dispute what they pay for. Same as Chick Fil A [owners] refusing jobs to gay men and women. They are open about it and that is their right.”

Grimes said at the subject’s root is a property right and contracting issue that is being blurred by “reproductive rights, women’s rights and religious rights.”

“The Supreme Court shows its own poor thinking in how the issue was addressed on religious grounds,” said Grimes.

"For those who have not looked into this much, consider, for a moment, that part of the decision was the court taking it upon itself judgment of sincerity of belief. That’s right, a factor in this decision was that the court felt that the Hobby Lobby folks were ‘sincere in their beliefs,’ and therefore, free not to provide. The court came to the right decision but for the wrong reasons."

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

To read the results of the Daily Press’ online poll on the decision, visit tahlequahTDP.com.

CHECK IT OUT

To read the entire Facebook discussion on the U.S. Supreme Court decision visit www.facebook.com/tdpress.

tsnell@tahlequahdailypress.com

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