Hobby Lobby Lessons for Employee Benefit Professionals
Listen up, employee benefit professionals... On Monday, June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the religious rights of private business owners over their employees' right to receive certain health insurance benefits. In the Hobby Lobby case five of the nine Supreme Court justices ruled that owners of private, closely held businesses are covered by the1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Meaning that your CEOs religious beliefs can determine what the company health insurance plan will or will not cover.
This case gets my attention for many reasons but it also takes me back to a time when I worked for a conservative, family-owned business. I don't know if the owner was a religious man, but he was very conservative. I remember my boss telling our health plan rep and me to remove the word "abortion" from the benefit summary's list of covered benefits. I remember thinking, would he really force us to remove this benefit from the plan? Fortunately I never had to find out. Honestly, I don't think the guy ever looked at any health plan information except what it was costing him.
- Know the Law: It is important to keep abreast of case law impacting the employee benefits filed. You don't want to be the one person in the office who never heard of that case. Read publications like Bloomberg BNA Pension and Benefits Reporter to keep track of all benefit laws.
- Know What's in Your Benefit Plans: Health insurers usually provide a standard set of benefits that they include in both self-insured and fully insured health plans. Some of these benefits may be mandated for fully insured plans but not self-funded ones. You won't know unless your review all of your plan documentation or ask you rep about specific benefits that may be controversial or your employer does not want to cover.
- Know Your Company's Culture and Leadership: I wonder what the Hobby Lobby employees think of their employer and the lawsuit. I'm sure they know about their employer's religious beliefs, but did they ever think it would lead to a lawsuit over health care benefits? And what about the Hobby Lobby HR and benefit staff... Did they see this coming?
Private citizens versus the federal government... Religion versus contraception... No wonder the Hobby Lobby case is getting a lot of attention. Hopefully it got yours, benefit pro.