Eden Foods files lawsuit to fight Affordable Care Act over contraception coverage

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Eden Food Store at 701 Tecumseh Road. Herald file photo by Mary Kay McPartlin.

On May 10, Clinton-based Eden Foods will be in United States District Court in an attempt to fight the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that companies must provide contraceptive medications at no charge for employees as part of health care packages.

The complaint was filed on March 20 in U.S. District Court in Detroit by Erin Mersino, an attorney from the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor. This is the fourth complaint, calling for religious liberty, filed by the law firm against the Affordable Care Act, with the other complainants including Thomas Monahan of Domino Farms and Domino’s Pizza in Ann Arbor and Thomas Beckwith of Beckwith Electric Company.

Adjustments to healthcare that added fully covered benefits with no copay for women’s preventative care went into effect on Aug. 1, 2012. Many companies did not see the changes go into effect until Jan. 1, 2013. It is now required to provide female employees through company insurance with fully covered well-woman visits, screening for gestational diabetes, HPV DNA testing, domestic violence screening and counseling, HIV screening, counseling for sexually transmitted infections, breastfeeding supplies, contraceptive methods and family planning counseling.

According to the complaint, Eden Foods has never provided insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs, identified as lifestyle drugs by the company’s Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance plan, because such care goes against Michael Potter’s religious beliefs. Potter, a Roman Catholic, is the chairman, president and the sole stockholder of Eden Foods, a natural food company started in the 1960s.

After drawing negative attention from on-line media organizations as well as customers on the Eden Foods Facebook page, Potter released a statement addressing his reason for the lawsuit. The statement released on April 17 stated, in part:

“Eden Foods’ health care provider is required by the HHS to comply with all details of the Affordable Care Act. Parts of the mandate violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. This overreach of the federal government infringes on religious freedoms.

“It is discriminatory that not all employers have to comply with the HHS mandate. Millions of people and thousands of companies are exempt. The exemptions under the Act are illogical, inconsistent, and contributing factors to our lawsuit. For instance, McDonald’s Inc. and 166 unions are exempt. Small employers are exempt. Individuals who practice certain faiths are exempt, while individuals who practice other faiths are not. Federal employees are exempt, and this is hypocritical. There is no exemption for the religious freedoms of employers.

“Eden employee benefits include health, dental, vision, life, and a fifty percent 401k match. The benefits have not funded ‘lifestyle drugs,’ an insurance industry drug classification that includes contraceptives, Viagra, smoking cessation, weight-loss, infertility, impotency, etc. This entire plan is managed with a goal of long-term sustainability.

“We believe in a woman’s right to decide, and have access to, all aspects of their health care and reproductive management. This lawsuit does not block, or intend to block, anyone’s access to health care or reproductive management. This lawsuit is about protecting religious freedom and stopping the government from forcing citizens to violate their conscience. We object to the HHS mandate and its government overreach.”

The lawsuit names as defendants Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services; United States Department of Health and Human Services; Seth D. Harris, Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Labor; United States Department of Labor; Jack Lew, Secretary of the United States Department of the Treasury; and United States Department of the Treasury. It states the reason for the lawsuit is for religious freedom, and no person or company should be forced to go against conscience in business because the government requires complicity by law.

Potter’s motion for an emergency injunction to comply with the Affordable Care Act made on March 22 was rejected by Judge Denise Page Hood. She said corporations are separate from the identity of the owner(s). Legal precedence, according to Hood, is the Affordable Care Act is not a First Amendment violation of freedom of religion for private, for-profit corporations.

According to Mersino, if Eden Foods does not receive a waiver allowing the company to discontinue coverage violating Potter’s religious beliefs, the company will eliminate all insurance coverage. The federal tax on Eden for not providing health insurance for its 128 employees would be $196,000 each year, while the tax for providing insurance with no contraceptive coverage would be $4.67 million per year.




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