Lawsuits may be the final nail in Obamacare’s coffin

Obamacare is on the ropes due to a disastrous website rollout and broken promises. Now it is taking body blows from several lawsuits. Photo: Contraception protest (AP)

LOS ANGELES, November 30, 2013—Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. Indiana v. IRS. Pruitt v. Sebelius. Never heard of these? You will. If any of these lawsuits renders a successful ruling against the IRS or Sebelius, they may be the final nails in the coffin of Obamacare.

Both Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius challenge the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that employers provide insurance coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives and abortifacients. On Nov. 26, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear these two cases, and that is not good news for the Obama administration.

Hobby Lobby is a Midwest arts-and-crafts giant owned by the Green family. This family of devout Christians appears to do well by their employees. The company offers a minimum wage of $14.00 an hour, and in 2010, they chose to provide an onsite comprehensive health care and wellness clinic with no co-pays to its Oklahoma City headquarters employees.

Hobby Lobby does not  object to providing coverage for basic contraception, but balks at treatments such as the “morning-after” and “week-after” pills. Supplying these abortifacients would violate their evangelical Christian religious beliefs. The attorneys for Hobby Lobby are basing their case on the protections afforded under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993.

Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. is owned by Mennonites, and posits similar arguments that its religious freedoms are being violated.

Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle hits it right between the eyes that this is not a battle that will increase support for the increasingly troubled Obamacare law. “There are many religious people in America, and if you want to keep stirring up active opposition to the law, one good way is to suggest that this law forces them to pay for something they are convinced is morally wrong.”

The other two cases, Indiana v. IRS and Pruitt v. Sebelius take issue with the “Employer Mandate”. Indiana v. IRS argues that the IRS’s enforcement of Obamacare’s Employer Mandate in states that have opted out of Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges is a violation of state sovereignty and a misapplication of the law.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller commented, “This case is about the fundamental relationship between the State and federal government. We respect the United States Supreme Court’s ruling last year upholding the individual mandate to buy health insurance; but it did not address the recent IRS regulations extending the reach of the ACA’s employer mandate.”

Pruitt v. Sebelius calls into the question the subsidies offered through the exchanges. From Martindale’s blog: “Under the legal theory being pursued in the Oklahoma suit, individuals would not be eligible for federal premium subsidies for coverage purchased through a federally facilitated exchange. Moreover, because the penalties under the Employer Mandate are triggered by a full-time employee receiving a federal premium subsidy, employees working in states that default to the federally facilitated exchange could not trigger any penalties.”

The Los Angeles Times reported on this legal position, only mentioning the cases in general, but intimating that this tactic could be adopted by the other 30 or so states that chose to opt out of creating a State-run exchange. More battles that the Obama administration may not have the ammunition to fight.

Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius will most likely be heard in March of 2014, with the Supreme Court planning to dedicate one hour of oral argument to each. The Court will lay down its final ruling in the summer of 2014.

These lawsuits are the ones in the forefront, but there are many more wending their way through lower courts. Challenges focused on the IRS’ involvement in the law (Halbig v. Sebelius, King v. Sebelius), the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) (Coons v. Geitner), as well as the HHS employer mandate and origination clause challenges mentioned above.

The administration promised that the website would be up and running by November 30; this has proven to be another miscalculation in an implementation that is riddled with them. President Obama has canceled plans to allow small businesses in many states to use a website to select health insurance plans for their employees until after the 2014 mid-term elections. As last week’s article outlined, the young-and-healthy who need to enroll to keep the law financially viable do not appear to be signing up, calling into question the wisdom of the Democrat strategy of basing the takeover of one-sixth of the economy on the loyalty of an inconsistent voter base.

With all of these factors, Obamacare could easily implode upon itself. However, even one favorable ruling for the States or the employers in these cases would surely hasten its demise. As Sun Tzu said in “The Art of War”, “Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.”


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Jennifer Oliver O'Connell

Jennifer Oliver O’Connell is the "In My Orbit" columnist for Washington Times Communities, writes on Los Angeles Faith and Community for, teaches Yoga, and coaches on careers and reinvention.

You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website: (

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