Judge rules mandated HIV drugs under insurance plan violate employer’s religious rights

A federal judge in Texas ruled Wednesday in favor of a Christian business owner who said being forced to provide preventative health care such as anti-HIV drugs as part of his employees’ health insurance plan violated his religious rights.

Steven Hotze, who runs Braidwood Management, a Christian for-profit corporation, sued the Biden administration, arguing that the Affordable Care Act’s mandates to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives and so-called “PrEP drugs,” which prevent the virus infection linked to AIDS, violated his religious beliefs.

He insures about 70 employees and wants to exclude these particular preventative care options from the company health plan, citing Biblical and moral injunctions against extramarital sex, drug abuse and homosexual activity. Being forced to cover PrEP drugs in the company’s self-insured plan “make him complicit in those behaviors,” the suit argued.

Braidwood faces monetary penalties if it doesn’t supply the mandated coverage under the ACA.

The judge in his ruling Wednesday said the federal government hasn’t shown a compelling reason for overriding Mr. Hotze’s religious reservations.

The government “inappropriately contests the correctness of Hotze’s beliefs, when courts may test only the sincerity of those beliefs,” wrote Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee.

Other plaintiffs objecting to certain preventive care on religious grounds were also part of the lawsuit, though the judge asked for more information from the parties before he ruled on their objections.

Judge O’Connor previously gained notice when he ruled the individual mandate to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional in 2018 when Congress changed the tax provisions of the law, endorsing conservative arguments that the entire law could no longer be enforced based on Congress’s taxing powers. 

The Supreme Court, though, reversed that holding in 2021, saying the parties challenging the law didn’t have sufficient injury, or standing, to bring the legal battle.

A spokesperson from the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to whether they’ll appeal Judge O’Connor’s ruling. The case is Braidwood Management Inc. et al. v. Xavier Becerra et al.

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