4th Supreme Court go-round for 5-year-old Obama health law

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is wading into its fourth dispute over President Barack Obama's 5-year-old health care overhaul.

The latest "Obamacare" case involves objections by faith-based hospitals, colleges and charities to the process the administration devised to spare them from paying for contraceptives for women covered under their health plans, and yet ensure that those women can obtain birth control at no extra cost.

The groups complain that they remain complicit in making available the contraceptives in violation of their religious beliefs.

Seven out of eight federal appeals courts have agreed with the administration that requiring the faith-based groups to make their objection known and identify their insurer or insurance administrator does not violate a federal religious freedom law.

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4th Supreme Court go-round for 5-year-old Obama health law
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 15: A person walks into the UniVista Insurance company office where people are signing up for health care plans under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, on December 15, 2015 in Miami, Florida. Today, is the deadline to sign up for a plan under the Affordable Care Act for people that want to be insured on January 1, 2016. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
House Health subcommittee member Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., questions Dr. Mandy Cohen, chief of staff, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, during a hearing on the state of Obamacare's CO-OP Program, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. The argument at the hearing was the Obama administration's most direct response to a wave of seven co-ops closing in Oct., 2015. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
US President Barack Obama speaks about healthcare reforms and the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, during the Catholic Hospital Association Conference in Washington, DC, June 9, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama speaks during Catholic Hospital Association Conference in Washington on Tuesday, June 9, 2015. Obama defended the health care overhaul just days ahead of an anticipated decision by the Supreme Court that could eliminate health care for millions of people. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 04: Supporters of the Affordable Care Act gather in front of the U.S Supreme Court during a rally March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case of King v. Burwell that could determine the fate of health care subsidies for as many as eight million people. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Protestors hold placards challenging 'Obamacare' outside of the US Supreme Court on March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court faces a momentous case Wednesday on the sweeping health insurance reform law that President Barack Obama wants to leave as part of his legacy. The question before the court is whether the seven million people or more who subscribed via the government's website can obtain tax subsidies that make the coverage affordable. A ruling is expected in June. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 04: Supporters of the Affordable Care Act gather in front of the U.S Supreme Court during a rally March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case of King v. Burwell that could determine the fate of health care subsidies for as many as eight million people. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, returns to his office after the House voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. The Republican-controlled House voted along party lines to repeal the health care law that stands as President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement, but this time the bill carried instructions for several committees to replace "Obamacare" with new policies. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is unlikely to pass, and even if it does, Obama has threatened a veto. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
A graph and details on health care costs and the Affordable Care Act are seen in President Barack Obama's new $4 trillion budget plan that was sent to Congress today, on Capitol Hill in Washington, early Monday, Feb. 02, 2015. The fiscal blueprint, for the budget year that begins Oct. 1, seeks to raise taxes on wealthier Americans and corporations and use the extra income to lift the fortunes of families who have felt squeezed during tough economic times. Republicans, who now hold the power in Congress, are accusing the president of seeking to revert to tax-and-spend policies that will harm the economy while failing to do anything about soaring spending on government benefit programs. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, opens a meeting of the House Rules Committee as the panel prepares a bill to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, that is scheduled to go to the floor this week, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 02, 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, left, joined by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., right, testifies as the House Rules Committee prepares a bill to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, that is scheduled to go to the floor this week, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Burgess, a medical doctor, is a member of the House Subcommittee on Health which has jurisdiction in matters of health insurance. Pallone is the top Democrat on the Health Subcommittee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - In this file photo taken with a fisheye lens April 6, 2013, Arkansas legislators meet in the House chamber at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. Arkansas Gov. A wave of newly elected Republican lawmakers who ran on vows to fight so-called Obamacare, including the state’s “private option” Medicaid expansion, has raised doubts about the future of a leading model for conservative states to gradually adapt to the federal health care law. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)
Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, a member of the House Rules Committee, makes a point as the panel prepares a bill to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, that is scheduled to go to the floor this week, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks to the Catholic Hospital Association Conference at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, Tuesday, June 9, 2015. Obama declared that his 5-year-old health care law is firmly established as the "reality" of health care in America, even as he awaits a Supreme Court ruling that could undermine it. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
US President Barack Obama speaks about healthcare reforms and the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, during the Catholic Hospital Association Conference in Washington, DC, June 9, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 04: Five-year-old James Cook of Cleveland, Ohio, participates in a rally to support the Affordable Care Act in front of the U.S Supreme Court March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case of King v. Burwell that could determine the fate of health care subsidies for as many as eight million people. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
FILE - In this March 25, 2015, file photo, Margot Riphagen, of New Orleans, wears a birth control pills costume as she protests in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, as the court heard oral arguments in the challenges of President Barack Obama's health care law requirement that businesses provide their female employees with health insurance that includes access to contraceptives. Some insurance plans offered on the health marketplaces violate the law’s requirements for women’s health, according to a new report from a women’s legal advocacy group. The National Women’s Law Center analyzed plans in 15 states over two years and found some excluded dependents from maternity coverage, prohibited coverage of breast pumps or failed to cover all federally approved birth control methods. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 04: Supporters of the Affordable Care Act gather in front of the U.S Supreme Court during a rally March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case of King v. Burwell that could determine the fate of health care subsidies for as many as eight million people. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Graphic previews selected remaining cases before the Supreme Court.
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Only the appeals court in St. Louis ruled for the groups, saying they probably have a right to refuse to comply with the administration rules.

The justices on Friday said they would hear pending appeals from groups in Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, DC.

The case will be argued in late March.

Among the challengers are the Little Sisters of the Poor, nuns who run more than two dozen nursing homes for impoverished seniors.

The administration has argued that the accommodation it came up with does not violate the nonprofits' religious rights. Even if the Supreme Court rejects that argument, the administration has said in court papers, the justices should determine that the system for getting contraceptives to women covered by the groups' insurance plans is the most effective and efficient way to do so.

The high court has twice preserved the health overhaul. But it has allowed some for-profit employers with religious objections to refuse to pay for contraceptives for women.

Houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith are exempt from the requirement to offer birth control.

For other religious-affiliated nonprofit groups such as hospitals and schools, the administration argues that the accommodation creates a generous moral and financial buffer between religious objectors and funding birth control. The nonprofit groups have to raise their hands and say that paying for any or all of the 20 devices and methods approved by government regulators would violate their religious beliefs.

To do so, they must fill out a government document or otherwise notify the government so that their insurers or third-party administrators can take on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. The employer does not have to arrange the coverage or pay for it. Insurers get reimbursed by the government through credits against fees owed under other parts of the health law.

But dozens of colleges, hospitals, charities and other organizations have said in lawsuits they still are being forced to participate in an effort to provide coverage for contraceptives, including some which they claim amount to abortion. The government may impose fines on groups that do not comply.


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